His life was perfect until, one day in early December, some drug dealers came down from the mountain and ruined everything. Fernando, a fictitious name that he has chosen to protect his identity in this report, had everything he had ever wanted: a wonderful wife, a three-year-old daughter and a seven-month-old baby, a small livestock business, two trucks and a small house. in the town in the Sierra de Zacatecas where he was born. Between the mountains, San Pascual is organized around a fine road where a few houses accumulate, a basketball court, a church, grocery stores and a school, enough for the 90 people who used to live there. Now there is not a soul left.
Chaos came down from the highest hill of San Pascual in the form of two men dressed in military-looking equipment with long weapons slung over their shoulders. They looked at everything as if it already belonged to them. They went straight to Fernando’s house. In front of his wife and his daughters, one of them told him: “We do not have a bad plan, our lawsuit is with others. What we want is to avoid the government, so here we go. But don’t worry, we’ve come to take care of you.” Almost two months later, Fernando recounts by phone that at that moment he thought: “And what are they taking care of us, let’s see? Nothing ever happens here.” When they realized that promise wasn’t real, they packed as much stuff as they could carry into the truck and drove off.
A few weeks after the arrival of the drug traffickers, who identified themselves as the Jalisco Nueva Generacion Cartel, the town was completely uninhabited. There were no large demonstrations or cries of protest, and the name of San Pascual did not resonate in any media. Many do not speak out for fear of reprisals and because, for the municipality of Tepetongo and for Zacatecas, violence and the abuse of power by the cartels are daily bread. The result is inevitable: Zacatecas was the entity with the most episodes of forced displacement in 2021, according to the report of the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights presented this January. Between Zacatecas (3,693), Michoacan (13,515) and Chiapas (7,117) add up to 84% of displaced people in all of Mexico.
On Wednesday, December 14, they went to his house again, but he was working. They talked to his wife. “When I came back, she could barely tell how nervous she was,” he says. They told him that they had come to ask Fernando for one of the two trucks he had. “We are at her mercy, give her the keys and let them go,” his wife asked. When he left the house with the keys in his hand, ready to look for the uniformed officers so as not to get into trouble, one of his neighbors asked him: “Where are you going?” “I’m going to get my truck, they asked me for it,” he replied. “No, don’t go, they already took mine away,” his neighbor told him. A few days later they also took Fernando’s truck.
At the insistence of his wife, and because everyone in the region knows the violence of which these criminal groups are capable, he took his cows to the pasture of a cousin of his, they loaded the truck that he had left — “I threw in all the documents, my children’s clothes, toys”— and said goodbye to the town that had seen him grow up. He reported the truck as stolen and reported what was happening to the Zacatecas authorities. So far no one has done anything to return their village to them. “The National Guard makes rounds, but they do nothing to catch the criminals. They are in the mountains, they come down at night and enter the houses and take what they want, ”Fernando says by phone, from the house where he has temporarily settled with his family, in a nearby city.
The authorities, far from doing anything, avoid meddling as much as possible in the chores and battles between cartels, which have been besieging the region for months. The result is that the fight for territory between the Jalisco Nueva Generacion Cartel —“those below”, they are told there—, and the Sinaloa Cartel —“those above”—, has left a trail of blood and tears that makes life in the villages of the municipality almost impossible.
Jairo Lopez is a researcher at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas and a specialist in massive forced displacement. He assures that there is a word that the authorities do not dare to use, but that perfectly describes the situation: “Here there is a war, a war for the control of drug production and trafficking, in addition to the war for resources minerals from this earth. But the authorities do not dare to say so, because that would force us to have other types of policies”.
Meanwhile, Fernando continues to flee his town, and the authorities continue to avoid the situation. “We are completely helpless,” he laments. “The authorities behaved well, but they were not like we are going to go after them. They said we are going to analyze the situation, keep denouncing, but nothing more. It is the second time that they take him out of San Pascual without his permission. When he was 17 years old, his father took them to work in the United States. “There we did the typical things, restaurants, gardening, cleaning carpets at dawn, cleaning offices, in construction, where I was able to save money,” he says.
After two decades and as a result of Covid-19, his entire family returned to the town from which they have now been expelled. “I really want to see my cattle again, to live the life I led. I was finally on my land, finally, after working in the United States for so many years, I was working on my own project”, says Fernando with growing impotence. “I don’t see political parties much, but this is happening to us now and it makes us lose faith in our country a lot. I have realized that we are totally vulnerable. It’s stupid. In other countries one can be poor or rich, but no one lives with this uncertainty about their lives, ”he says.
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