THE LAND OF NOBODY
Last week the decapitation execution of Antonio Erives Arduño,39, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel in the municipality of Uruachi, worried the villagers of the region.
At the end of March of last year, the plaza leader had positioned himself as the “protector” of the citizens, due to the lack of response and security from the authorities of all levels of government.
“Toño”, which is how he was known, helped people with money, groceries and other needs. He defended even those who did not want to be involved with him. Although he rescued teenagers that were forcibly recruited by other criminal groups, he also enlisted some of them into his group.
For a year, Antonio Erives managed to maintain “calm” in the village, but Saturday morning October 27th, his rival arrived, one of the leaders of the criminal group La Linea, nicknamed “El Vaquero”, to fight for the territory. The confrontation kept the inhabitants inside their homes.
According to local authorities, several people were killed, although the exact number is unknown. The confrontation lasted more than five hours.
There seems to be impunity to kill on the Sierra Tarahumara. Authorities and society blame the families, the community, saying that they’ve cultivated and produced marijuana and poppy for decades, mainly without realizing that violence has reached entire villages and manufactured thousands of anonymous victims.
The confrontations between drug traffickers are historical, the villagers say that there has always been organized criminals (armed people); and Indians and mestizos (persons of mixed race) have always cultivated drug. That excuse seems to justify permission to kill anyone, no matter the cause or how many killed, because the Sierra of Chihuahua is the “land of nobody”.
The power of Toño Erives
The last week of March and beginning of April 2011, the confrontation between the two criminal groups, Sinaloa Cartel and La linea, caused an entire town to spend the night on the mountains. They slept that week out in the open and with low temperatures. It was in Jicamorachi, of the municipality of Uruachi.
The morning of April 9th, Lidia, niece in-law of Antonio Erives, came down from one of the mountains. She was accompanied by her mother in law, several aunts and a group of children, which had ran away after some strangers (La Linea) burned five of their properties.
Toño Erives, one of the uncles of her husband ( her husband was killed in 2009 at the age of 19), reached important positions in La Linea, branch of the Juarez Cartel. He soon started to stand out in that organization; however, the Sinaloa Cartel convinced him to unite with them and his power in the region grew immensely
“He was a noble man” said Lidia “he gave protection, helped people, lend them his trucks to go to the hospitals. He’s a man with handsome features, a nice person.”
In March 2011, El Vaquero, one of the leaders of La Linea, and former boss of Erives, arrived in Jicamorachi. There was a queen coronation ball. There was a quarrel between the group, the neighbors of the place indicated that one of them had a truck full of drugs and two men were killed.
Two days after, a commando dressed with federal police uniforms burned six houses, among these, one that belonged to the doctor of the town and several vehicles. The rebels came in to town randomly shooting. Fear drove the people, old, kids, complete families, to the mountains. Jicamorachi is nestled between several mountains.
Some families managed to escape and more than half of the 122 families of the town didn’t return, said one of the former regional commissionaires of Tepehuan. (dozens were also kidnapped). The villagers remain a whole weekend on the mountains, the distribution buses wouldn’t go up to Jicamorachi because of the risk that involved, the children became ill; the weather was cool, that is why they decided to return home.
Almost all of the villagers that remained in the mountains and hadn’t fled to other cities, returned, except Lidia’s family, who remain in the mountains with her aunts. The houses that the group burned belong to her family. They also burned a carpentry shop that belonged to the father of Antonio Erives. In early April, the army came and settled in the elementary school of Jicamorachi and that is how the villagers were able to return to their homes.
Frightened, Lidia came down the mountain; she wouldn’t say a word, just nodded that her desire was to stay with her mother in-laws. She refused to leave that town where she lived during her short marriage and lived face to face with violence. They are paying the price of unlawful practices that naturalized over decades in the Sierra Tarahumara.
At that time, the young woman evaded any person that asked details of those violent events. She was proposed an offer to leave town to go with her family, but she refused, she said that her desire was not leave her mother in-law and her aunts, alone.
A week later, she left the town with her in-laws. The Single State Police offered support to leave town by helicopter. They arrived in Sonora and weeks later, Lidia decided to go with her family to one of the major cities of the state. She got a job at a department store, she seemed calmed and during her lunch hour, she agreed to talk about her life in Uruachi.
She accepted that she needed counseling. She was determined to resume her life. A few weeks later she got married and now is expecting a baby.
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Wave of shooting
After the gunmen took the town of Jicamorachi against Erives in March 2011, he and his men ambushed a caravan of vehicles of an opposing group that was passing by one of the roads of the municipality. El Blanco was the leader of another group. El Vaquero managed to escape in an armored vehicle, said a teenage relative of Lidia that is also part of the group of Erives.
As revenge, days later, people under the instructions of El Vaquero, took a passenger bus, where Antonio Erives’s sister, a councilor of Uruachi was travelling. Gunmen kidnapped her and the negotiation began: the plaza in exchange for the woman.
The agreement was to meet in a location near Gosogachi.
The councilor was taken by helicopter and given to her brother, but she had been tortured: her feet were burned. After getting her sister, “the war started”, both groups confronted the conflict from different hills. Toño’s group won.
In that same period, another village of Uruachi, Memelichi was also taken. Through emails, the victims indicated to their acquaintances that they were not allowed to leave the village. Out of fear, the men ran to hide, but women and children were kept in the village.
After the “war”, the enemy of Erives arrived in the main town with about 70 armed people to the and began a five hour shootout. Besides Toño’s group, poorly armed policemen and “three or four young men” participated, they climbed the roofs to shoot so the rivals wouldn’t know where the shots came from, also participated.
They fired from the rooftops and killed several men. The people with whom it was possible to have telephone communications, claimed that they saw people that were wounded or killed, but the groups took the bodies, so it is unknown the exact number of those killed or wounded.
The ladies said that they saw teenagers going into their yards with big guns, terrorizing them. The villagers said that in the “war”, apple harvesters were recruited.
The mayor, Aldo Campos Rascon, said a day later that the people were in shock; many houses were fired upon and the vehicles windows were broken. He assured that about 10 people were injured. The mayor requested permanent presence of the armed forces to try to contain the violence.
“If we don’t stop this situation, the Sierra will become a powder keg. It has turn into the population arming themselves or wanting to participate in some way or another in these groups and those more interested are the young people.”
“It’s a little bit of everything, people get tired of living like this, in fear, trying to take a stand one way or another. It is complicated and if we are not careful we will become a powder keg in a short time. People are concerned, there is mistrust,” said the mayor.
In view of that situation, suddenly, the villagers of the municipality realized that they were protected by Toño Erives and his people, who substituted for authority functions, beginning with protecting their lives to support transfers to hospitals and feeding.
Since that time, in late March and early April 2011, executions were isolated and sporadic, until last weekend, when the rival group attacked against and killed Antonio Erives, who had become the “Robin Hood” of the villagers of Uruachi. Now, they fear of how to accommodate both groups and the decisions the leaders will make.