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

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Torreon's "Miracle", A Successful Strategy Against Organized Crime

"Sol Prendido" for Borderland Beat

In addition to raising police salaries and using cameras, they swept away slot machines, casinos, cockfights, horse races and table dances, as they were used to launder money.

Torreon today is one of the safest cities in Coahuila

"Do you see that house in the background, the one with the fallen roof?" Eme asks me and the sun that burns at 43 degrees prevents me from looking up.

"That's where we used to put the Zetas we captured on the other side of the hill. We would give them to the 'butchers' and they would tell us where there were more of them: they would pull out their fingernails and drill their heads until they talked and then we would throw them away in little pieces.

Eme is a retired member of the Sinaloa Cartel in Coahuila who has a devil with an AK-47 tattooed on his leg so that no one will be surprised by the evil of his past. Among his many skills he has the ability to locate without the need of a map each of the torture houses in the dirt bump in front of us, but since I don't know which one Eme is referring to, he asks me to walk with him up Callejón 11 until we reach a room that still has two armchairs where his bosses used to sit to get high and wait for some kid recruited by Los Zetas to be brought to them.

"You can still see the holes," he says, pointing to a brick wall inside the house that served as a wall. "At night you could just hear the dry bullets - bang, bam - and you knew they were finishing off 14- or 15-year-old kids. Here, in those years, it was normal".

Eme speaks in code: "here" is La Durangueña hill in Torreon; "those years" is between 2003 and 2012; and "normal" is that the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas killed so many people as if they wanted to depopulate La Laguna, turning it into the most lethal region in the country.

"Look at the way things are," Eme ironizes, as he wipes her sweat. "Ten years ago, if you had set foot here, journalist, they would have killed you. But today you're here talking to me and even taking pictures."

True enough. Not only can I walk through the nooks and crannies of La Durangueña, but I can talk to the few remaining neighbors and peer through the windows of the shacks and imagine the horror of those who were tortured and murdered here.

"How did they do it?", I ask Eme and his answer is of a candor only found in the north of the country: "Well... they finally decided to finish us off".

Strategic Location

Torreon is a desert with a park in the center. An oven where a lagoon that gives milk was born. A wasteland that gave birth to a mining company whose export roads are the best kept secret in the region. Torreon has a soap factory attached to a train that is attached to a hill that is attached to bars where they sell ice-cold beer accompanied by a slice of adobada. Torreon is the bustle of a carne asada and the silence of its steep hills where there are still clandestine graves to be discovered.

Torreon is key for the country. It connects the Pacific with the United States. It connects Mazatlán with Reynosa and Ciudad Juárez with Tapachula. It is halfway between the ports of Manzanillo and Altamira. A strategic junction. Francisco I. Madero and Francisco Villa were well aware of it, and were ambitious for it long before the cartels. To control the territory, the Maderistas killed hundreds of people of Chinese origin in 1911 and then the Villistas killed hundreds of Maderistas.

Torreon bathes in sweat and goes to bed in dried blood: a century after the Mexican Revolution, the fight for its land was fought by the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas. The former arrived at the end of the 20th century; the latter, in 2003, when they came down from Piedras Negras at odds with the Gulf Cartel. Both claimed by gunfire that city -the most populated in La Laguna, which it shares with the municipalities of Matamoros and Madero in Coahuila and Gomez Palacio and Lerdo in Durango- and its thriving legal industries, along with drug sales and the extortion business.

Torreon is the memory of a city exposed to the horrors of the first stage of the "war on drugs": the attack on businessman Carlos Herrera, the murder of journalist Eliseo Barron, the massacre of 17 young people in the Quinta Italia Inn, the massacre outside Galerias Laguna, the machine-gunning of the building of the newspaper El Siglo de Torreon. The child assassins going up the Cerro de la Cruz and the old men going down to the flour mill hired as spies. The policemen dismembered by orders of El Dany. The torture houses of Comandante Gabito. The curfew. The fear behind the curtain.

Torreon is a phantom pain. The evil was extirpated a decade ago, but there are days when it appears even though it is no longer there: the leaky grocery stores and a monument to the disappeared that crosses a blue lake are vestiges of the violent years. Torreón is a nervous but healthy stump. A pain that eases when a business reopens, a family returns from exile or a neighbor greets the policeman on the corner and a recurring question arises, "Do you remember that we couldn't do this a few years ago?"

Torreon is the second safest city in Coahuila. It is among the 15 most peaceful cities in Mexico. A magnet for foreign investment. A Costco under construction. A U.S. donut brand announced its arrival. A restaurant open in the wee hours of the morning. A flour gordita by day and French bread at night. Torreon is noise: people speak without whispering for fear of "Los Señores" and sing in the baseball stadium. Torreón is warm, quiet, without any shocks.

Blow to finances

Torreón Mayor Román Alberto Cepeda is the epitome of the northern man. Boots, jeans and white shirt over 192 centimeters tall. The only thing that stands out is that he listens to the Mexican pop music group Timbiriche to relax. Other than that, this businessman who likes to ride horses is a monographic Torreonese. He is also the fifth municipal president in the era of peace that began in 2013 and was baptized as "Reconquering La Laguna" by academics Sergio Aguayo and Jacobo Dayán.

"Torreón revived the day that several forces that let their hands loose when the violence began were articulated: businessmen, migrants, civil society and then universities, human rights organizations, the Church and the media that took back their voice", says the mayor from his offices.

It is not clear what led Torreon - and La Laguna - to shake the boot of the cartels off its neck after two decades of subjugation. Some say it was the near bankruptcy of the municipality brought on by the Sinaloa Cartel; others say it was the psychosis provoked by the executions of Los Zetas. Or that organized crime messed with something sacred - soccer - during the shooting outside the Santos stadium. Or that one day the lethal violence touched a young man surnamed Moreira and then even those who sent their families to the United States because of the violence felt vulnerable.

But starting in 2013 something began to change, which coincided when a new federal government began that was of the same political party as the state and municipal government, so resources and strategies flowed without pause.

The governments of La Laguna swept away the slot machines, a business of the Zetas. Also with the casinos, where the Sinaloa Cartel made its money. Cockfighting, horse racing, table dancing and junkyards were banned because they were used to launder money. This was a blow to the finances of the criminals. Then, gas stations were regulated to prevent the sale of stolen fuel, alcohol consumption was regulated and a zero vehicle tolerance program was initiated: no one could drive without license plates or tinted windows.

The municipal police working for Los Zetas were disarmed. So did the state police who collaborated with the Sinaloa police. And although many uniformed officers went on strike - forced by their criminal bosses to be reinstated as thugs with badges - they did not back down. The time the Army occupied La Laguna was used to create the Special Command that erased borders between municipalities and states depending on a highly specialized civilian and metropolitan police force. The change included better salaries, better equipment and technology that was also bought with money from businessmen.

"The Torreonense has a very particular vision of the country. We were made in the desert, so everything cost us more work. We are used to fighting," says proudly the mayor, who in the years of greatest violence stopped seeing his three children for fear that they would follow him and kidnap them.

La Laguna discovered in those dark years new words: "pozolear" (the cooking of humans), "tablear" (beating down a victim with a wooden plank), "encajuelar" (an abduction that involves placing a victim inside a vehicle’s trunk), "cuernear" (the use of an AK-47 rifle to hunt humans). It also twisted its own names: "Tierrón" (City of Torreón has been rechristened to mean Burial City) , "Mata-morros" (City of Matamoros has been rechristened to mean Child Killing City), "Gómez Balazos" (City of Gomez Palacios has been rechristened to mean Gomez Bullets). But Torreón created a verb that defines its character and its rebirth: "morelear", that is, to summon families -from grandmothers to grandchildren- in the emblematic and wounded Morelos Avenue every time there was a bloody event and to occupy the street with cyclists, joggers, musicians, painters and dancers.

Soon, the fearful took to the streets and the fearful were displaced. Fear began to change sides.


The will of some 700,000 Torreonenses would not have been enough without a key component in the fight against organized crime: technology. If the Zetas had call interceptors and the Sinaloa Cartel had encrypted radiofrequencies, the governments had to play better cards.

Currently, Torreon is monitored by 404 smart cameras from the state of Coahuila and 260 municipal lenses. To those 664 must be added those in 30 patrol cars as a pilot program and 24 police body cams.

Some of these cameras are so advanced that they are able to identify suspicious people and automatically track them through their body temperature, even if they are in completely dark places. The technology purchased in China is the pride of the bomb-proof walled Command and Control Center (C2) after an explosive attack eight years ago.

"Before, criminals would come and tell you 'let me through because I'm going to turn off your cameras by hook or by crook.' Today that's impossible, it doesn't happen anymore. But in the worst days, they had control of C2 and everything that happened here," recalls the center's director, Cesar Reyes, who today functions as the mayor's eyes and ears.

The accesses to the city are jealously watched by arches with cameras that are capable of identifying and storing for up to three months the features of a driver behind a mask. Whoever enters Torreon with an outstanding warrant, according to the Mexico Platform, is detained in less than seven minutes, as per protocol.

An average municipal police officer has a salary of around 20,000 pesos per month, while the reaction team makes up to 40,000 pesos per month. They do the tough work aboard armored vehicles that can withstand AK-47 rounds.

"And we are going to put more cameras. And more weapons detection arches. In addition, we go out daily to the streets to carry out employment and health campaigns where the criminals used to go. Something incredible happens here: people bring lunch to the police."

Farewell to the narco

"We didn't even know what happened. One day the bosses told us that the government had decided to do away with Los Zetas and that they needed our help. At first we felt very cool, but then they turned on us and went against us. And when we saw that they had indeed wiped out the opposition, the bosses called us and told those of us who wanted to leave the company to take advantage of the opportunity, because our time at La Durangueña had run out," says Eme.

In those days, Eme earned 7,000 pesos a week as a subordinate of the Sinaloa Cartel's Dany. His job was to get rid of his fear with cheap amphetamines to run with other kids into enemy territory like Cerro Azul and El Huarache to capture Zetas and sell them for 30,000 pesos each to the "butchers. The only objective of his troop was to take prisoners of war.

"The job included making sure that the state police patrols took care that no one entered La Durangueña to prevent them from being 'given trámite'."

 "What is 'dar trámite,' Eme?", I ask him and his frankness returns. "To kill, to annihilate, whatever you want to call it." And I think that in a city like Torreón, which prides itself on its business background, even death was disguised as corporate-speak.

Eme had two paths open to him: continue in the cartel, but in a different location, or go into hiding. He chose the latter and for months he did not show his head. From his hiding place he learned of arrests, murders, betrayals and escapes. He also heard about companies that reopened, recovered houses, paved streets where no one dared to pass and victims' collectives that raised their hands to talk about their disappeared. The storm that provoked the violence settled and gave it a chance to start again.

Today he works for the government in an area that I cannot reveal, but that has nothing to do with public security or the administration of justice. He took the day off to take me to La Durangueña and show me the vestiges of the war: here a wall still standing, over there a house with burnt drums inside, over there a makeshift road leading to the top of the hill, where it is believed there is a clandestine cemetery. His old workplace. His painful past.

La Laguna still has many challenges ahead: the Sinaloa Cartel still roams the desert, there are pending files of alleged human rights violations committed against neighbors in the years of the cleanup against Los Zetas, the "crystal meth" is consumed in worrying quantities and the collectives in search of the disappeared have yet to find Fanny, Hector, Luis Angel and hundreds more.

We descend from the bottom of Alley 11, where the house with the fallen roof is located. It is time to leave the hill that looks like a keloid scar as a reminder that there is a sustainable security model here. As we leave, the sun still burns at 43 degrees and beats down on a metal plaque that reads Torreon's motto, never better applied to its past and present.

"Welcome to the city of great efforts."



  1. Good article, Sr. Sol..
    Could it be true, that there is hope for mexico?
    I'm keeping my fingers crossed..

    1. Not really Lizard man.
      I hereby give you a quote...from The New York Times Sunday edition...
      "Mexicos president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, rose to power in 2018, competed with 2 others, that were sub-par , vowing to change the country's approach to cracking down on crime, however, criminal organizations, continue to Flourish".

    2. 10:27 - What you commented did not contradict anything the original commenter said or anything the article written by Sol said. Crime in the overall country might continue to flourish, but Torreón has continued to get safer and safer. Homicides in Torreón have been falling drastically since 2019. So, if Torreón strategy is working for them, why not try implementing it in other cities. It wouldn’t hurt to try.

    3. 11:56 I had answered 9:17 comment about that he said "there is no hope for Mexico", note he did not say Torreon.
      Therefore my answer stands. Yes I did read the article, not like others.

    4. Oh, my fault. I didn’t see that the original commenter had said Mexico and not Torreón. But like I also said, it wouldn’t hurt to at least try to implement Torreón’s strategy into other cities in Mexico.

    5. 11:23 PM

      Your quote is incorrect, the original quote from 9:17 is "that there is hope for mexico?" Nowhere did they write what you quoted.

    6. Torreón got better after Z Fatty was arrested. I have been staying in a parking lot gated motel near downtown for years driving from Texas to Mazatlan and back; and I remember 2009 to about 2015 the streets being desolate after dusk. As you shared Torreón is back to its old charm with people eating out and enjoying the cooler evenings again.

    7. Make it a fnk book already

  2. El pollo y/o el Amarillo operates for los chapitos in Torreón 😂

  3. Its safe because one group took over the underground world and kept the petty thugs in check.

  4. 2 live & die in LAJuly 25, 2023 at 9:49 AM

    Good read. For the longest time I've thought there is no solution to the cartel epidemic that has swept Mex but this is a perfect example of steps taken that are working. I'm sure the initial step of cleansing the city of whatever groups control it will come with some human rights abuses but there cannot be victory without casualties. They also need to add some community outreach / diversion programs for the youth, better education system, & job training.... maybe public hanging of cartel members caught in city limits?

  5. Great News. Cameras work they are on street corners, stores, high crime areas, highways, entertainment areas, and law enforcement taps into doorbell cameras from people home when a crime has occurred.

  6. Who controls torreon today? And are the torreon independent cartel still active?

    1. I thought the Gov took over drug trafficking in Coahuila?

    2. Danny's ran out poniente a while back and became cartel de la Laguna

  7. Yes! I love to see this. Viva Mexico! Great country with many great people who deserve to be rid of the blight of organized crime.

  8. One city safe thousands to go.

  9. My home state has always been really quiet, ever since the 90's. Unfortunately that silence usually is not a good thing. No todo lo que brilla es oro..

  10. PRI has been governing Coahuila since a long ass time

  11. Oh the city in the state where they governor stole billions from the coffers!?

    Lmao smoke and mirrors..

  12. Se los explicará uno de torreón traduzcan y entiendan fácil.......pones a Sinaloa de preferencia exterminas a los zzz y creeas una policía con sicarios ..listo si intentas hacer algo ilegal te meteras con ellos ......una cosa es la tranquilidad otra cosa un estado super controlado

  13. I remember when Torreon was dangerous, about 13 years ago. So good to see that it is safe again. My friends who live there really suffered during that horrible narco period.


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