Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mexico's Refugees: A Hidden Cost of the Drug War

Scenes from the burning of Tierras Coloradas
Published: February 17, 2011
(Additional reporting by Julian Cardona in Ciudad Juarez and Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; Editing by Kieran Murray)

TIERRAS COLORADAS, Mexico (Reuters) - Just after Christmas, drug hitmen rolled into the isolated village of Tierras Coloradas and burnt it down, leaving more than 150 people, mostly children, homeless in the raw mountain winter.

The residents, Tepehuan Indians who speak Spanish as a second language and have no electricity or running water, had already fled into the woods, sleeping under trees or hiding in caves after a raid by a feared drug gang on December 26.

Using murder and intimidation, rival cartels are fighting for control of this drug-growing area. A group of armed men came searching for a man rumoured to be cultivating marijuana.

He died trying to defend himself, but not before killing a suspected drug trafficking leader, and residents were sure the gang would return for revenge.

"We saw they killed one person and we thought, 'Now they are going to kill everyone.' So we ran," said Jose, a village leader, standing in front of the charred remains of the one-room pre-school, with mangled desk chairs strewn outside.

On December 28, two days after the initial raid, a column of 50 to 60 men, some in military-type uniforms and ski masks, filed on foot down a steep mountain road and torched three dozen homes -- about half the village -- as well as two schools, 17 trucks, the radio receiver and the community store.

The attack on Tierras Coloradas is one of the most dramatic examples yet of a still largely hidden phenomenon of Mexico's drugs war: people forced from their homes by the violence.

"The situation is out of control," Durango state prosecutor Ramiro Ortiz said in an interview at his office last week. "Organized crime has no limits any more. They don't respect women or children. It's a situation of total brutality."

(In a BBC news story Durango’s Secretary of State, Hugo Rosales, is quoted as saying the incidents at Tierras Coloradas are the result of a drug dispute, as some local growers were selling opium and marijuana to a band of Los Zetas.

"The Sinaloa cartel is fighting for all the Sierras (highlands), they require that all drugs be delivered to them and when the growers refuse confrontations result” explains Rosales.

And while the conflict dispute between the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel continues, the mountains of Durango will continue as a battleground).

President Felipe Calderon's four-year-old army-led campaign against the cartels has shaken up the balance of power in Mexico's criminal underworld and sparked a wave of turf wars, sometimes trapping civilians in their midst.

Tierras Coloradas lies in the heart of a marijuana and opium poppy growing region known as Mexico's "Golden Triangle," and is more than 11 hours by car on poor roads and dirt tracks from Durango's state capital,

The rule of law is evaporating in the region as drug gangs extend their power. Jose said he tried to call the municipal police on the village's only radio the day before it was reduced to ashes but he was told there were 'dangerous people' on the road who wouldn't let police through.

"We were waiting and waiting but they never came," said 24-year-old Maria Guadalupe, wearing the traditional Tepehuan dress of brightly coloured satin blouse and skirt lined with ruffles, paired with fuzzy fluorescent socks.

Walking with difficulty because of a limp, she fled with her mother, seven brothers and sisters and a four-month old niece. The villagers hid in the mountains for nearly a week before soldiers arrived to secure what was left of the town.

In the northern states of Durango, Chihuahua and Tamaulipas, cartels fighting for control of lucrative smuggling routes to the United States have threatened entire towns with ultimatums to flee or be killed.

No official numbers exist, but the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, or IDMC, estimates 115,000 people have been displaced by Mexico's drug violence.

Another 115,000 or more have fled and slipped into the United States, IDMC says. Some leave and then move back, creating a floating population that is hard to track.

"The focus of the government is obviously on beating the cartels ... Beyond keeping a tally of people who have been killed, they are not tracking the impact of this violence on the civilian population," IDMC's Mexico program director Sebastian Albuja said


Compared to Colombia, where some 3.4 million people have been displaced by a decades-long conflict involving cocaine-smuggling guerrilla, paramilitary and other armed groups, Mexico's problem is still small.

But as violence grows, with more than 34,000 drug killings in the past four years, Calderon is coming under increasing pressure to help states burdened by drug war refugees.

Durango's state government needs millions of dollars to rebuild homes and schools in Tierras Coloradas and to resettle some 1,400 people who fled towns in the nearby municipality of Pueblo Nuevo because of threats from drug traffickers.

"People have left not because they want to, but because they are forced to by the situation," state governor Jorge Herrera said when he helicoptered into Tierras Coloradas to hand out stoves, rice, beans, oil, sacks of cement and bricks.

Durango is not the only state with drug war ghost towns. Last November, some 300 residents of Ciudad Mier -- once dubbed one of Mexico's "magical pueblos" for its rich history -- fled after gunmen told people to clear out.

The surrounding region in Tamaulipas state, near the Texas border, has been plagued by spiralling violence as the Zetas gang, a group of military deserters, tries to grab key towns from its arch-rival, the Gulf cartel.

There are similar scenes of burnt-out homes and shuttered businesses around Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's most violent city.

Last year, thugs told residents of Praxedis G. Guerrero, an hour outside of Juarez, they had until Easter Sunday to leave town. About 50 houses were burnt and one-third of the population left for good. Those who stayed live in fear.

"People don't go out. There are no dances, no parties because of the threats they'll be machine-gunned," said a 40-year-old farm worker in Praxedis' silent central plaza.

Officials blame much of the violence around Ciudad Juarez on Mexico's most wanted drug lord, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, muscling in on territory controlled by the Juarez Cartel.

Around Tierras Coloradas, Guzman's group is trying to halt an incursion by the Zetas. Some impoverished towns in Durango's remote canyons are thought to be involved in planting illegal crops and are now caught up in battles between rival groups.

Until there is development and job opportunities in the poorest, indigenous parts of Mexico, many towns like Tierras Coloradas will continue to live under threat, said a local congressman who represented the region before he was severely wounded in a cartel ambush that killed a local mayor.

"There is still fear about what will happen when the security forces leave," said the politician, who now uses a walker and speaks with a slur. "No one knows if the people who did this will come back."


Los pueblos fantasmas......


  1. Yes, this is going to happen. People are losing their homes, families, and places of work/ businesses. They will begin to move around to other regions of Mexico like lost souls as they flee what is being done to them by this US Pentagon obsession with drugs, terrorism, and supposed US 'national security' as defined by US upper class boneheads out of Harvard and Stanford think tanks.

    The article mentioned how the US war against the FARC and other Left guerrilla groups in Colombia created 3 1/2 million internal refugees there, too. This just illustrates how that no misery is too great for the US government to impose on another people.

    Now... why are there so many lower class dopes in the US boondocks who are cheerleaders for what D.C. is doing? Is racism part of their problem? It's simply happening to people of another race than their own mainly? Yes, I believe that is a great part of it. How many obnoxious comments about Mexico and its people have been posted on BB that go to illustrate that?

  2. Great Job Gerardo i just want to add a little by saying in these areas of durango they are not actually ZETA's they are remnants of the Juarez Cartel the name Zeta was just given to them by the villagers since that is the hot name right now. Im about halfway done on a piece im trying to submit to give a summary since 08 when all hell broke loose in Durango. I wasnt aware these natives were selling drugs to anyone other than Chapo. goes to show a group of sixty is his men the Zetas dont have that kind of membership there.

  3. Ernest1, I'm so racist I married a Mexican girl and had three beautiful children with her. So tell me, what should the US do differently to satisfy you? Maybe you can make a list from 1 to 10 or to eleventy billion for all I know.

    I get the "butt out" part, but you seem to be under the impression that the US is not doing enough to "control demand". What should the US be doing differently? Legalize everything and pour the $15 billion into drug treatment programs?
    And if so, what is the answer to the 30% success rate of drug rehabilitacion (cocaine, crack) and the 70% rate of drug recidivism?

  4. Ernest1,
    most of the "lower class dopes in the US" don't know Mexico, other than maybe a border town trip or an afternoon in Reynosa or a weekend in Tijuana. They don't know Michoacan or Oaxaca or D.F. or any of the other states. They don't even realized that it's the United States of Mexico. It's ignorance and probably racism too. I think a lot of Americans are pissed off about anchor babies and programs that allow illegal immigrants from Mexico to go to college for free. Are they right? Maybe they have a point about what is fair and not fair. When my relatives from Mexico visited California they were shocked that there are no walls between the yards of our neighbors and that our first floor windows had no bars on them.

    But when it comes to the drug war in Mexico I'm probably one of the few who thinks it's OK for both "boneheads out of Harvard and Stanford" and "lower class dopes" to express their opinion. The BB is a place to have some dialogue about these things. 10 years ago most Americans didn't really care about what was going on in Mexico. Now that many do, I think that's a good thing.

  5. Correct. It's going to happen because the US Pentagon and the US people target these communities to get them out of the way. The whole purpose of the US govt is to inflict as much misery and death as possible on minority people. It is all done (no matter what they say) because the US is racist. All US policies if the truth came out are based on racism.

    I started counting the obnoxious comments about Mexico on BB but there are so many I had to stop and get something to eat. But then I forgot how many I had counted so I had to start over. Then I started asking the lower class dopes in the US boondocks if racism had anything to do with their problem. But most of them got really angry that I thought they had a problem and they refused to answer any more questions. So I thought I would ask the upper class boneheads from Harvard and Stanford why they pick on minority mexicans so much. I found this African-American lady that used to work in Washington DC but she told me to check with this Mexican guy from Harvard. It turns out the guy from Harvard is the president of the Mexicans and he is really busy. He promised to call me back.

  6. @Ernest1 are you trying to say USA is doing this to make people in Mexico suffer because of race?

    i like whats going on in Mexico cause i want Mexicans to have equal rights like me and freedom of speech

    Its not USA's fualt that these thugs have most of the country locked down and its not USA's fualt the thugs kill innocent people.

    what will be USA's fualt is in 2012 the cartels will be very very weak and Mexico's president will keep fighting

  7. To 3;23. I think to some point everyone is racist. It's a NEED people have to feel that they have ONE UP on someone else.. I speak better, I have a white mate is very comon on some hispanics, so therefore, a persons personal inferiority complex causes them to be ashamed of their own race. I have a cousin, who i could see that that when she grew up she would marry a white guy, and move away because she was ashamed of her own brothers and sisters...Her voice changed, her attitude changed. She changed ..She fell under a spell i believe that; (someone told her she was a stupid mexican)...And she believes that lie of herself...always trying to prove how smart she is.!!! It's almost comical and sad at the same time...To her somehow, it's like if she married someone other than her culture, she would feel better about herself.!! And the Lord looked, and He saw that all that He had created was good... God is my Rock....

  8. Anonymous (3:11PM), I agree with you 100%.

    'But when it comes to the drug war in Mexico I'm probably one of the few who thinks it's OK for both "boneheads out of Harvard and Stanford" and "lower class dopes" to express their opinion. The BB is a place to have some dialogue about these things. 10 years ago most Americans didn't really care about what was going on in Mexico. Now that many do, I think that's a good thing.'

    And Swanka...

    'Swanka said... @Ernest1 are you trying to say USA is doing this to make people in Mexico suffer because of race?', that's not what I'm saying.

    I am saying though that the US population tolerates the US government's abuse of people in places like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia, and Colombia because these peoples do have another race, culture, and language different from the dominant Anglo US culture. US citizens tend to make up all sorts of excuses for why all this US government driven killing and mayhem is A-OK with them because of that.

    I do fear that something similar is being driven forward in the US for Mexico's population.

    And Anonymous (3:04PM)...

    'Ernest1, I'm so racist I married a Mexican girl and had three beautiful children with her.'

    Then I wish you and your mixed family the best. Is your wife Mexican Mexican or US Mexican background Mexican? Either way, I wish you the very best.

    I hope that Mexico does not become devastated with millions of internal refugees like what the US has done to Colombia. And Colombia is still way far from being out of its difficulties arising from its domination by the US.

  9. ernest you forgot cambodia. what is wrong with you? genocide was commited in cambodia. many people die. why did you forget cambodia? you racis? do not forget.

  10. Durango1 your right, there mostly remains of the juarez cartel. EL Chapo's people are really fortifying the state and in areas by zacatecas or couhila you can see zetas. Becouse thats there strongholds. In sta maria del oro el chapo and el mayos people are super strong. I know there are m's , mingos, and a group lead by ernesto. That plaza is 100% theres and there are no probloms like the ones were zetas are in

  11. enerst 1 is an old anglo who always wanted to be a latino , so he really hates latinos cause he couldn't be one and they never accepted his ass kissing, thats why he overcompensates by kissing brown ass all the time on this blog

    and he never was really a 60's revolutionary either, too cowardly i suppose, thats why he protesteth so much against the USA now

    burn urn


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