TORREON, COAHUILA (Proceso). 8-1-2012. At the Specialists Hospital Number 71 of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), doctors, nurses, patients and insureds went into a panic the afternoon of (July) 23, after they heard an explosion and saw that the fourth, fifth and sixth floors were engulfed in flames. Civil Protection personnel began to cordon off the area of the accident and to evacuate the 450 patients interned there. It was 7:45. Rescue workers said the explosion was caused by a gas leak. Just before that, the Municipal Police said the fire was caused by a ballast exploding. Everything was confusion.
Several nurses assure Proceso that, some hours before, they had started to get anonymous messages on their cell phones warning them not to go to work because "the hospital was threatened." And, when the hospital was on fire, the warnings came again: "This is just the beginning"...
A pair of nurses was walking around the the hospital grounds, located on Revolucion Avenue. They were holding each other and trying to give each other support. Each of them would check her cell phone to see whether more messages had come in. The mobilization of rescue workers continued. The sound of sirens filled the air.
At 8:30 p.m. ambulances and firemen from nearby towns continued to arrive at the hospital. Inside there was chaos. Medics, male nurses and assistants were helping patients transfer; some carried cables, oxygen tanks, catheters for administering serum and other medications.
"When we started to get the threatening phone calls, some female employees asked to be transferred to Clinic No. 16", located on the same Revolucion Avenue, very close to the Specialists Hospital that treats people in the Lagunera province (Comarca Lagunera), says one of them.
The incident on the 23rd was the second incident that month. The first one took place recently, when a group of killers went up to the fourth floor to finish off a man wounded in a shootout and the bodyguard who was guarding him.
On Tuesday, the 24th, the Municipal Police issued a second statement which clarified that the "conflagration" was caused by a "general short circuit". With respect to the "attempted arson," the hospital's own staff controlled it immediately, concluded the statement.
The evacuation of the 450 patients from Hospital 71 is the most serious (incident) in the last two years. From that date, the approximately 700,000 city residents live immersed in a social crisis. It worries them, they say, that the Laguna area has become the place with the third highest number of violent murders in the country, just behind Ciudad Juarez (Chihuahua) and Acapulco.
"La Laguna is today the best example of how corruption and complicity of the authorities with organized crime can sink a society in desperation and gloom," a local businessman, who asks not to be identified, tells Proceso.
These days, city night life is minimal. Small and mid-size businesses were the first to close down due to extortion by the Zetas; the businesses on the downtown streets, like Morelos street, followed soon after. Attempts by police to control violence in 2011 were largely for public relations purposes.
In October of that year, just weeks before his death, Mexican Secretary of Governance Francisco Blake Mora announced Operation Safe Laguna. The first thing he did was to replace mid- and high-level commanders in the Gomez Palacio, Lerdo and Torreon municipalities. Then 746 Army troops arrived. But the violence did not decrease. At the end of the year there were more than 740 murders.
During the first months in 2011, murders related to organized crime fluctuated between 30 and 40 per month. With operation (Laguna Segura), they shot up to 50. Next month there were 60. During the last quarter, the average was 80 (per month).
At the beginning of 2012, the statistic shot up. In La Laguna, the office of the State Attorney General warned that this year it could get more violent because the homicide numbers increased 14% the first two months, with 102 murders. According to authorities, 80% of violent deaths are due to struggles between drug cartels for (control of) the city; 15% are caused by the Army in its confrontations with criminal groups. Although some casualties are from "collateral damage", the rest are due to local crimes.
Web of corruptionThe Sinaloa cartel lusts after La Laguna. Its killers (sicarios) control several Durango municipalities, among them Gomez Palacio and Lerdo. The Zetas, who maintain an iron grip on Torreon, Matamoros and San Pedro, are also greedy for La Laguna.
From the time they came to Coahuila the Zetas could count on protection by authorities at all levels of government. In fact, several (Zeta) leaders established residence in the state. From here, they coordinate operations in Monterey and other cities in the area.
Kingpins like Sigifredo Najea Talamantes, "El Canicon"; Juan Oliva Castillo, "La Rana", who ordered the attack on the Casino Royale, and Alberto Jose Gonzalez Xalate, "El Paisa", arrested in April of 2012, all had their center of operations in Saltillo.
In its February 26, 2012, edition, Proceso documented the manner in which the Zetas infiltrated the Army, the Mexican Office of Attorney General (PGR), the Federal Police, the State Attorney General and state police agencies. The arrest of four Zeta leaders uncovered complicity of high-ranking government officials, who were getting paid fabulous salaries by the criminal organization.
In the criminal investigation (captioned) PGR/SIEDO/UEIDCS/041/2012, it was revealed that Lt. Col. Manuel de Jesus Cicero Salazar, who acted as chief of the Coahuila State Operational Police, protected the Zetas (Proceso 1843). The Assistant Attorney General of the PGR in Saltillo, Claudia Gonzalez Lopez, was also implicated and was removed from office.
According to the same information, among the high ranking Army commanders who were receiving pay checks from the drug traffickers were lieutenants Javier Rodriguez Aburto, Socrates Humberto Lopez Gonzalez and Julian Castilla Flores. Each got 50,000 pesos a month. Their companion Marcos Augusto Perez Cisneros only got 30,000 pesos because "he was very lazy."
According to the investigation being referred to, the corruption network included second lieutenants, sergeants and corporals, whose job it was to act as go-between to transmit orders from the Zetas to the military commanders. The inquiry indicates that the corruption also reached the commanders of the Federal Investigations Agency (AFI), some of which had "narcosalaries" of 100,000 pesos a month. One commander second class received 70,000 (pesos); officer Jose Guadalupe Ballesteros Huescas, 50,000 pesos, while five agents of the Federal Public Ministry got from 25,000 to 30,000 pesos. Some of them received expensive cars as gifts.
The investigation also shows that Humberto Torres, brother of the head of the Coahuila Office of State Attorney General, received bribes of up to $100,000.00 dollars and BMW and Mustang cars when he worked as legal director of the State Department of Health. He's at large now. (The report) adds that these government officials and military officers allowed the Zetas to build an empire for the sale of drugs, and to extort and kidnap business owners in the state. Meanwhile, from Durango, Chapo Guzman's army would heat up the "plaza" with constant battles. Because the majority of fights took place in downtown Torreon, since the Sinaloa gunmen only had to cross the Nazas River, soon the streets were left desolate with dozens of closed businesses.
During the drug war in this capital city there have been three massacres reported; the Ferry Bar massacre, where 8 men died at the end of January, 2010: the one on May 15, at the inauguration of the Juanas Bar, where 10 people died, and a third one at the Quinta Italia Inn, in the early hours of July 18 of that same year (2010), where 17 young people were killed by gunfire.
The PGR revealed that in those massacres, official (government) assault rifles were used that belonged to prison guards from Cereso Dos de Durango (a prison), then headed by Margarita Rojas Rodriguez. The state authorities accused the government official and several of her collaborators of allowing a group of prisoners to go out at night and use the guards' weapons and official vehicles to carry out "acts of revenge."
With the capture of some corrupt government officials the confrontations decreased, but disappearances and kidnappings increased on the Coahuila part of La Laguna. Businessman Alejandro Gurza Obregon says the same thing; he states that business extortions have increased, but, he admits, the most serious (problems) are the abductions. The violence and insecurity also led many businessmen and store owners to leave the city, concludes Gurza.
The Juan Gerardi Human Rights Center asserts that, since 2010, the main problems that it deals with are related to disappeared persons. The organization Forces United for our Disappeared in Coahuila (Fundec) has reports of more than 230 disappearances, but the Commission estimates that there may be 600, although many of them have not been reported to the authorities.
"We constantly get people who are not organized and who come here to ask us for an evaluation. We have cases from the Matamoros, San Pedro, Francisco I. Madero and Cuencame municipalities," says Antonio Esparza, spokesperson for Fundec. Information about the abduction of migrants on their way to the United States also gets to the organization, he says.
The violence does not stop. Early this past June another massacre took place in the Tu Vida Sobre la Roca A.C. Rehabilitation Center, where 11 residents were murdered.