Tag: Mexican murder

Mexico on the Edge

A Summary and Expansion: The leaking Ship of State.

May 12, the newspaper La Jornada; John Ackerman:

If there is not a radical change in the authoritarian structure of the State, polarization of citizens against the State may have reached the point of no return. Because of the self-defense groups and the discussions among citizens that have arisen, the State—rather than restore the Rule of Law—strikes at the self-defense groups and their leader in order to confuse the discussion, distract and stop the discussion itself.

The bribe: The State, represented by Federal Commissioner for Michoacán, delivered a few arms to a dubious self-defense group in that state and pronounced that, henceforth, responsibility for citizen safety was in their hands—pretty much all cynical theater relying on old authoritarian strategies like “silver or lead, the bribe or the bullet,” to which “theater” should be added, all of it bathed in baffling cynicism and criminal failure by the federal government to enforce the Rule of Law of its own accord.

The bullet: the former spokesperson for all the self-defense groups, Dr. José Mireles, a voice I find convincing, becomes the recipient of the Government’s bullet, i.e. efforts to undermine his authority by accepting denunciations of him by groups that have taken favors from the Government, like the group mentioned above and who may be betraying the self-defense movement. In an old tactic, to divide and conquer, federal authorities are accusing Mireles of murder simply on the say-so of men with questionable ties. Because of the lingering effects of Napoleonic Law, the accusation leaves Mireles obliged to prove his innocence, hence leaving him judicially tainted, neutralizing him and exposing him at the same time.

As in the telecommunication and energy “reforms,” the federal government refuses to hold public discussion with the citizenry. PRI pragmatism includes dangerous trickery, calumny, betrayal of citizens’ safety (Mireles), and generally simply not responding to citizens’ cries for help and justice.

John Ackerman, U.S. born, is a researcher in the Institute of Judicial Review at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and Editorial Director of the Mexican Law Review. He writes for La Jornada and Proceso.

May 13, 2014, the newspaper La Jornada, Pedro Miguel:

Dr. Mireles separated himself from the dubious federal commissioner Castillo of Michoacán; and the Mexican Government has betrayed him. This has brought sympathy from the whole country. In order to undermine this sympathy, the State attacks Mireles and his sympathizers, calling the latter naïve, easy followers of another “caudillo,” strong man or boss—a man, the say, who may be mentally ill. Mireles was quoted as saying, “I didn’t know that Alfredo Castillo or Smurf—Estanislao Beltrán (the new government-recognized leader of the self-defense forces)—are specialists in psychiatry.”

The result has been that Dr. Mireles appears as a straight talker, the government as compulsively mendacious and manipulative, hence manifesting questionable mental health. All of which make Mireles more respected and admired for his stance against corruption at all levels, including the federal.

May 13, 2014, Aristequi Noticias (News); Carmen Aristegui:

This is the contradiction that gives off an odor: The government that goes after Mireles has not been able to arrest and prosecute countless murderers among the Templars and other criminal groups. They have gone after him because he symbolized—and surely still does—the independence of the self-defense idea.

May 13, 2014, the newspaper La Jornada, Luis Hernández Navarro

Shadow Theater, “to give the impression of movement.” Or to make it appear that the government has legitimized the self-defense groups, by exchanging the latter’s symbolic AK-47’s (guerrilla movement) for AR-15’s (the citizen’s assault rifle), lighter pickups for the heavier more independent ones and limited ammunition.

The new self-defense spokesperson Smurf, known as Papa Smurf, the government’s chosen self-defense leader, exclaims, “With this, we now have a commitment. We are the government.”

One can see Dr. Mireles raising his eyebrows in wonder at this language.

At the shadow theater presentation, Commissioner Castillo proclaimed, “The unheard of phenomenon of this armed social movement is that the people have not risen against the State, rather to ask for the State’s presence. And today those who represent the State are you!”

The inept, and probably complicit, State was understandably worried about the “against” part. Now, it hopes to have co-opted the self-defense movement by taking away their indepence.

Of all the shadow plays possible, the one offering any real security has not been staged.

May 13, 2014, Aristegui Noticias (News), Carmen Aristequi:

The language of co-option sounds like this. Commissioner Castillo, talking as if Commander Smurf’s group represented the entire case of citizens bearing arms: “The self-defense groups simply felt not taken into account in the doctor’s statement and ceased to feel represented. They made a decision (to dismiss him) and we respect them…they choose their spokespersons and we talk to them.”—translated by Reed Brundage, Mexico Voices.

May 13, 2014, MVS News, Carmen Aristegui

The government has succeeded in co-opting the self-defense groups in Michoacán. One should probably add that it was “one part” of the groups, and that that group was “turned.”

The government cannot tolerate independent, let alone armed movements.

It is a political decision to accuse someone. Anyone can be the target. Its ultimate purpose is to get rid of the self-defense groups.

It is an old practice, especially of the PRI (the party that exercised near dictatorial control over Mexico for 71 years). All energy goes into divide, co-opt and control, rather than into solving a problem.

The indifference of the State permitted the existence of The Templars; the State is deeply complicit in a complex web of connections.

Denise Dresser: Co-opting the self-defense forces is not going to solve the underlying problem in regard to public security. The State prosecutes Mireles but is incapable of investigating other deaths, let alone the huge mafia that has breathed in rhythm with state, municipal and federal authorities. Her repeated question: “Where is the State?” Why has it not been meeting its responsibilities? Why can it not enforce the rule of law?

Seven Murdered Miners

Yesterday, April 22, 2014, I watched as many as 600 men in their thirties and forties march down the middle of Hidalgo, Guanajuato’s one road in the bottom of the canyon that holds the small city. They were robust young men, and for that reason I guessed they were miners. I remarked to my partner that what we were seeing meant there must be something like a general strike in the surrounding mines—at least for that day. My partner read a banner and said, “They are commemorating seven miners, from seventy-seven years ago,” and then I knew what it was about.

To explain, I have summarized an article by Alfonso Ochoa in the Guanajuato newspaper Correo, from April 22, 2013.

Seventy-seven years ago, on April 22, 1937, seven labor organizers left the Cubo mine—an area I have visited several times—drove across the treeless ridges toward Guanajuato and were stopped by another car. Gunmen got out and shot the organizers down, finishing them off with a single bullet to the head, un tiro de gracia, a coup de grace. The names of the murdered men were: Reynaldo Ordaz, J. Jesús Fonseca, Juan Anguiano, Antonio Vargas, Simón Soto and Antonio García y Luis Chávez. The official story was that roving bandits had done it. The miners’ companions said the mine manager, a Mr. Quinn, had ordered it.

One source repeated what his grandmother Jovita Salazar had told him: that a certain “El Cojo” Severiano was in her store with a group of rough-looking men, watching for the departure of the labor organizers. When “El Cojo” saw the organizers leave, he told her something like “Ahora sí ya nos vamos, yo creo que ya va a estar el mole,” something like “Things are going just the way we want them.” And then they left, too, following the organizers’ car.

While the organizers were being murdered, a truck with men, women and children drove by, witnessing everything. The mine management wanted to crush efforts at organizing, an activity that was necessary because conditions in the mine was terribly dangerous because of unnecessary cave-ins and the lack of ventilation—which meant miners suffered terribly from silicosis by breathing particles hanging in the air.

Some time later, a miner by the name of Vicente Uribe managed to murder Mr. Quinn at the Dolores Mine. The union whisked Uribe off to Mexico City and hid him there, protecting him from the authorities—who, it was said, accepted the murder of union organizers but not of American mine managers. As the story goes, American President Roosevelt complained to Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas that miners had murdered an American mine manager, and Lázaro Cárdenas had replied that the American-controlled mine had murdered seven Mexicans.

If you go to Cubo today, in the town’s modest plaza you can see the mounted seven bronze busts of the   murdered miners. Conditions have not changed a great deal in the intervening years. The new owners are Canadians, not Americans. Miners still work long hours with low pay. Ventilation has improved but miners still suffer from dust particle illnesses. They still wear soft-toed rubber boots that expose them to crushing injuries. The mine owners do not equip them with emergency breathing kits that should be hanging around their waists. One day a year, the Día de las Flores, the mine owners serve free ice cream to the miners’ children. And year after year, the miners march down Guanajuato’s main street, Hidalgo, refusing to forget what happened to their fathers and grandfathers seventy-seven years ago.

Update: My former Spanish teacher, the wonderful Carolina Rodriguez, told me yesterday what her cousin’s grandfather told her cousin: that the seventh man—who was not a miner—had hitched a ride in the doomed car and was murdered along with the rest of the men.

For more on Guanajuato’s mining culture, please read my short story “Underground Amphibians” on this blog. Simply go to the search box on the front page of the blog and write in that title.

The Oil Novel – First Chapter

“How do you start a novel? Well, you just begin. And then wait until the explanations, i.e. the rest of the novel, catch up with you.”

Chapter 1 ~ Sleep (Early Draft)

The bus was a 1934 Ford, with one wooden bench running the length of each side of the bus and two back-to-back benches running down the middle, forming two aisles. Sometime around midnight, the bus driver—whom I also knew as Enrique, a part time labor organizer in Tampico, where we were going—opened the door from the outside and came up the three steps to our level, holding his hand over his right forehead, as if someone had just hit him there. He walked stiffly like a condemned man. Someone was coming along behind him and kept his head behind Enrique’s, as if trying to hide.

I had been holding my travel duffle on my lap for warmth. I reached in and found the heavy Colt that had belonged to my father-in-law, the national rural policeman—before they finally managed to accuse him of treason for helping the Yaquis around Guaymas and put him against a wall in front of six shaking Mauser rifles, all of which missed—probably intentionally—except for one that caught him in the heart and took his life away from him.

I pulled back the hammer one click, then two, to its firing position, and held weapon under the bag, the butt resting on my left thigh, pointing up the aisle.

Mariana had been stretched out on the bench, with her feet toward me and her head toward them.

“What are you doing?” she said.

The bus driver was about eight short steps away. He brought his hand down away from his forehead. As if someone had ordered him to.

With the flat of my hand, I indicated to Mariana that she should neither get up nor continue speaking.

Mariana usually doesn’t do what I say, and this time she didn’t either.

I shifted the duffle to one side and raised the revolver. The angle had changed and I should have been able to see much more of the second man—but I couldn’t. I turned more toward them, and toward Mariana.

“It’s a .45,” I said, softly.

“I know that,” she said.

“I’m not talking to you,” I said, just as softly.

The driver stopped.

“If I fire,” I said, “the bullet will go through both of you. Your stomachs.”

I added my left hand to the grip to still the nervous trembling. The driver remained mute, confirming that things were not normal.

“Raise all four hands. If I see a pistol, I fire.”

Something was delaying the man in back. Then his hands went up. I assumed that the pistol was now in his belt.

“Back away,” I said.

I hoped they were thinking how un-armored their stomachs were.

Mariana was shaking her head in disapproval. I assumed it was meant for me—but maybe not. Maybe just in general.

At the door, the men turned and clumped down the steps. I got up, went down our aisle toward the back of the bus and came up the right side aisle. Passengers lay stretched out on that side-bench as well, and I slid into a slot between two of them.

Outside my window, there was some moon, but not enough to make out the features of the second man. The men moved away and I lost sight of them through the dirty window. No one was looking at me.

I got up and went back to Mariana. She was sitting up now, looking pretty and unhappy—the wife that had never forgiven me.

“What was that?” she asked.

“No idea,” I said, which was not true.

I told her to go ahead and sleep, that I would keep watch.

And I did, for the rest of the night. A noble impulse, you might think, but in reality because I am an insomniac, the perfect watchman—and the one that can fall asleep for a moment, in mid-sentence, during the day.

I wondered whether the Second Man could determine exactly where we were sitting and put a bullet or two through the thin wooden side of the bus. At first, there were muffled voices outside, hard to hear over the snoring passengers. Then there was nothing.

Someone—a male passenger, irked—got up and shut the bus’s door, for warmth, then lay down again. I was pretty sure he had completely missed what had just happened.

Mariana had rejected my suggestion that she lie back down and go back to sleep. Instead she tried to sleep sitting up. But her head sank lower and lower, and finally lean over and rested against my shoulder.

I lowered the Colt’s hammer to its safety position—where it would not fire if something jarred it or brushed against the trigger. I kept it under my right thigh. After a while, I scooted back and let Mariana down on the bench. She brought up her knees and put her hands under her head. I took off my jacket, folded it and put it under her head. She put her hands between her knees. Feeling sorry for myself, I wrapped my arms around myself. With most people, cold works against insomnia—but in my case, it has no effect.

At dawn, someone came to the door and said there was a dead man at the bottom of the steps. People registered the information slowly. A few sat right up and looked around to see if they could spot anyone that was missing. A young man raised his arms over his head, his hands laced. The crime had already been committed and he had decided there was no reason not to stretch.

I got up to have a look. On the last step, and holding the grip, I had to step over the corpse and on down to the ground. I could tell from his uniform it was Enrique. The air was dry and smelled of oak. My hips hurt, and it was cold.

“I’m a policeman,” I said to the man standing in front of me. I saw no need to tell him I was actually Auxiliary Police, Anti-Corruption, answerable directly to Lázaro Cárdenas, President of Mexico. Actually retired. Actually fired—for misconduct.

The bus driver had been dragged about six meters from where he was murdered, to the bus’s steps. Someone had poured oil, thick and crude, over his head. The black liquid had pooled at the top where someone had crushed his skull. Blood had oozed out from under the liquid tar and fallen down over the head in thin streams that entered under his collar and traveled below his shirt, down to the round of his belly, where they flowed sideways and dripped on the ground. All of it was nearly as dark as the oil on his head.

“When did you find him?” I asked.

He said his wife found him. She had come outside to get charcoal for the comal so she could make his breakfast and saw the oil on Enrique’s head and knew wasn’t just drunk and sleeping next to the bus.

I asked him whether he had a tarp. He said he did. An old one. I said that was fine and we would drag him behind the little restaurant and cover him—so no one would see him when they went to have their breakfast. Plus, it would help keep off the flies, until we decided what to do with him.

“Have your wife sweep over our marks.” I said. “But not over the ones leading to the bus.”

I watched him react to me ordering his wife to do something—instead of him ordering her to do something.

His face hardened.

“By the way, let me see your hands.”

“I didn’t kill him,” he said.

His hands were covered with a uniform layer of old dirt, with no sign of oil or washing.

“I know you didn’t,” I said. “And you weren’t the victim.”

Why I said it that way, I wasn’t too sure. Except that I was thinking of other possible victims—such as myself, who I thought was probably the one meant to be wearing oil on his head.

For a moment, I also thought of taking this man on to Tampico and pinning the murder on him, to redeem myself. But that would have been continuing in the old ways, and I just didn’t have the heart for it any longer.