Translated by Otis. B. Fly-Wheel for Borderland Beat from an El Pais article
A Mayor, a journalist and a General incarnate the fight of those who will not surrender to the narco in the most violent state in Mexico.
In maps, Matamoros is situated in the North East of Mexico, on the shores of the Rio Bravo, face to face with Brownsville (Texas). But in the mind of the Mexicans closest to the inferno, the City of half a million inhabitants, lives in state of permanent war. Under the control of the Cartel del Golfo, locked in an insane fight against Los Zetas, there are days when Hit men cut the principal access, with the authorities asking people not to leave the main avenues, then the air fills with the smell of gunpowder.
But few know where the bullets will come. With a murder rate nearly forty times higher than Spain, the second City of Tamaulipas is, for many an open grave. From this hole, a journalist, a woman mayor and a General tell their story. All live threatened by drug traffickers.
The Mayoress of Matamoros
Norma Leticia Salazar Vazquez, 37 years of age, is a woman of one part. Born and raised in Matamoros, she is ready to die fighting. She doesn't carry a weapon, but has been trained if the time comes to pull the trigger. "I will fight until the end" says the Mayor of the National Action Party (PAN), which sees itself as the latest incarnation of the law south of the Rio Bravo.
Yours is the phrase, " after God, the only authority here is Letty Salazar". All of the declarations of intentions in a City devastated by the beast that is the Cartel del Golfo. A town of streets where the spurs of crime resonate on every street corner.
At 20:10 pm on this past Sunday the 8th of March,in her Chevrolet Tahoe on returning from a ceremony,she was ambushed. Two vehicles crossed her path and began to strafe the Chevrolet, Salazar and her bodyguard managed to dodge the first attack, then her vehicle was chased across half the city, under gunfire from her assailants, until they managed to reach City Hall and safety. They were saved but the narcos didn't care, the message had been sent.
Three weeks later, the Mayoress of Matamoros is sitting the Council Main Hall. Behind the bullet proof glass, Salazar with eye shadow to match her blue shirt, looks like a small woman, but the impression is misleading. Everything about her exudes vitality and ambition. Those who know her say she never rests. She has been Mayoress and Federal Deputy and does not hide her dream of becoming Governor.
Arriving at City Hall in 2013, she liquidated the Municipal Police who were just a vassal of the narco's, and purged the corrupt out of all the sensitive departments. She made "Security" her flag. In the capital of the Cartel del Golfo, some people believe they have glimpsed a new phase.
Her name became known, but also her shadows: her right hand was detained and arrested for Tax Fraud, and the paramilitary unit in charge of her Security ( the Hercules Group) were involved with the death of three young Americans. (Otis: see Chivis account of their discovery see link)
The mud of Matamoros began to bubble, thats when the Cartel del Golfo moved against her. "We knew they were going to attack" recalls Salazar.
Speaking about the ambush, she said she prefers to look ahead, "to get where God takes me". In Letty Salazar, granddaughter of a Pastor of Temple Church Upper Room and herself an evangelical, faith is a gun ready to shoot.
The routine, on occasions, is an act of heroism, Seven in the morning of 4th of March, Enrique Juarez, director of "El Manana de Matamoros", received a phone call that no journalist wants to hear. He was informed that copies of his newspaper had not reached the City. The day before after three days of a bloody offensive by the cartels, Juarez took the decision, together with his editor, to publish on the front page what had occurred.
The title, of the four columns said " Fighting: 9 dead". The information detailed, without giving the names of the cartels involved, the habitual horror of Tamaulipas: three days of siege in urban zones and roads, four cities blocked by Sicarios, gun battles with Security Forces, principal avenues cutoff by Trailers to rob motorists, corpses in ditches.... The truth that nobody in Matamoros had condensed a story like this on the front page. A challenge that did not go unnoticed by the Cartel del Golfo.
On the freeway, the Sicarios intercepted the newspaper distribution van, and drove it off the road, their intention was that its stayed there. But Juarez did what no one expected and managed to hire a crane, and went to rescue the edition. At eleven o'clock the edition arrived at the kiosks. Five hours later, two Sicarios burst into the modest headquarters of the newspaper.
"I tried to defend myself with a knife, but they knocked me down. When I went down the stairs I resigned myself to die". They put him in a van, where they insulted, beat and threatened him. When the torture ended, Juarez knew that he had to abandon Matamoros forever.
He stayed at the newspaper building until eight pm that evening, then crossed the border into Texas. Now sitting in a bar in Brownsville, slowly sipping a cold beer, he wonders when the battle was lost. "Its a long time ago that I stopped understanding", he murmured.
In his story emerges a universe defeated by violence, where language has been corrupted and the victim is called "down", and the assassins, armed civilians, where those who dare to tell what was happening, even anonymously or through social networking, are localised and exhibited dead on their own twitter accounts.
"I have the vain hope that one day things will settle, and we can do journalism, because now is pure simulation; the cartels, officials, people know its all simulated". 51 year old Enrique Juarez is aware that he may never return to Matamoros, but dreams, as any journalist does, of reporting again.
The General, Arturo Guttierez Garcia says you have death for a shadow. From his headquarters in Ciudad Victoria he directs the offensive against the narco in the most explosive state of Mexico. The command post is a Fort of eight hectares, with a five meter high perimeter wall, which overlooks the rugged Sierra Maestra.
At the entrance, a sign reminiscent of Calderon: here the main feat is to obey, this is the slogan, whatever the cost and costs.
His Chief of Intelligence, the Colonel Salvador Haro Munoz was killed this year past, a few hours after taking the job. Twenty Sicarios stationed on the roofs of houses, waited for the arrival of his vehicle to mow him down (Otis: see Chivis article on this incident see link). His subordinates provided details of his route.(Otis: see Un Vato article on his betrayal see link).
Months after, another of his closest assistants, the General Ricardo Cesar Nino Villareal, in charge of the North Zone, was shot to death with his wife while travelling without a bodyguard. More than 100 cartridge cases were next to his car. (Otis: see DD article on this incident see link)
"He did not cooperate with the narcos and they finished him", pronounces General Gutierrez. "He was an Evangelist and admirer of Benito Juarez. they attempted to corrupt him, but they did not achieve it".
It was at the beginning of his term, a year ago, when after leaving the Army, he became Head of Public Security for Tamaulipas, with the aim of creating a new State Police. To do this he put high ranking Military Officers at the head of the units, and in coordination with the Army, Navy and Federal Police, began a fierce persecution of crime.
Since then, in his view, the situation has bottomed out, and the citizens have returned to lodging complaints, "If there is Authority, there is confidence", he says.
But the General isn't trying to deceive himself. He knows that in a territory with 17 border crossings into the United States, birth place of two of the most blood thirsty Cartels in the history of Mexico, the end of the violence is a chimera.
Out there, beyond the walls of his fortress, waiting for the enemy, this beast that scares the world and has converted Tamaulipas into a smoking crater of fleeting glimpses and abandoned streets. With a professional gesture, under the white light of his bunker, the General gauges that adversary.
They are well organized and very hierarchical. The Sicarios have the fear of being eliminated by their own bosses, and of being mutilated, "Living in that uncertainty, binds them together". To deal with this barbarian army, Gutierrez trusts in discipline and intelligence, or as he sums up with a wide Military smile, " its better to have two eggs in your basket than one".
Original article in Spanish at El Pais