The Woman of Guerrero Fight Back

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Texto Finalista en la categoría Reportero Local en el 2014 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism

Picture Antonio Cruz

By: Shaila Rosagel

The first group of woman that decided to use weapons in Guerrero was 110 and it all started in Xaltianguis, a town that’s in a valley, 50 kilometers away from the port of Acapulco. After that hundred, their fury grew and extended and penetrated into the very heart of the community police of the municipals raised against the organized crime that kidnapped, extortionated, violated and assassinated. The feminine essence traveled through the trails and contaminated the small town of Dos Caminos, where there is a group of 16, and Ocotito, where in one week 11 of them reunited. Mazatlán, the last town that the community obtained a few days ago, is in the process of recruitment because it’s “preferable to die standing instead of being retained on knees, rapped or locked in a trunk”.

Xaltianguis, Guerreo. – Rose Flores is a 34 year-old with six children, who studied up to the ninth grade; even though her dream was to be a “private investigator”. She’s a very short person as she measures 5” 1’. Even so, she’s the Commander in Chief of the Community Police of Xaltianguis and in charge of a dozen women that are originated from “El Retén”.

These 12 women are part of a team of 110 that in August of last year raised their guns and gathered with hundreds of men from the Union of Towns and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (UPOEG), whom arrived to rescue them from the hands of the criminals that operated in the region and started to demand territory for their citizens.

“We were tired of the kidnapping, raping and assaults. We couldn’t stand it anymore. There were many gunshots; the longest one lasted just about four hours. It was a fight between drug dealers, the mafia and other bands of people who were fighting for the town square of Xaltianguis. We were tired and sick that by eight o’clock p.m. at night we all had to be behind doors,” Rose said, outside of her home in her neighborhood El Retén.

Rose lives in an adobe house and a corrugated iron roof. It’s night time and she’s poking the fire of her homemade stove to give her six sons and her husband (a taxi driver who just arrived) some dinner. It’s 8 o’clock at night and women are still walking the uneven trails, hand in hand with their young children. The dogs rest in a luxuriously way underneath the dull lamplights, the crickets break the nighttime silence and the corner store in front of her house is still wide open without any jail bars.

In March of last year that was an impossible scene. The townspeople that don’t surpass 10,000- according to the last census of the National Institute of Statistics and Geographic– they would lock their doors before 8:00 and the dogs bark would change to howls.

“The dogs would warn us that the mafia was coming. There was a change in the way they would bark and howl; they would start to get nervous. They know that evil came in those vans,” Rose said with a shiver.

Commander Rose, as the townspeople call her, had a pension that catered to help her husband with the family economy. The day that Xaltianguis rose with guns, on April the 3rd 2012, the local criminals who were engaged in extortion, kidnapping and in raping women, began to acquire right of floor. As the establishment of Rosa was small, his share was 200 pesos a week, while that for the shopkeepers and merchants, the collection was increased to one thousand pesos or more.

That day several criminals fell in the hands of the community who came down from the mountains of Guerrero and is counted in the village. After that the fate of Xaltianguis began to change and the Community Police began with the recruitment of men for the defense of the village.

“Are women fighters? Yes. My husband cannot because of his work, he is a taxi driver, gets up early and he can’t, but he lets me participate and tells me to be very careful,” says Rosa while laughing.

On August 19 of 2013 the news spread throughout the country and transferred to the borders: in a small village in Guerrero were assembled a hundred women. Among them was Rose.

“Seeing a woman upfront, many men were ashamed. To have the courage to condemn what is happening, address the issue of fear that people feel and making  public its adherence of a movement like this is not easy,” recalls Fredy Bello, Treasurer of the UPOEG of Xaltianguis.

Some men, the operatives and watchmen of the townspeople who contribute their cooperation to pay for the petrol and maintain the vehicles in good condition, feel frightened. It’s an overwhelming fear that everybody feels thinking that the criminals will interact with the community police officers, the relegated to anonymity and to participate only with economic resources.

In accordance with the Treasurer of the Community Police, the village made a relationship of all the residents and they were assigned shares or cuts of voluntary cooperation in accordance with their living standard to maintain themselves. The women were the ones who took the role of raising funds house by house.

But by surprise of the community, housewives, wives, mothers, grandmothers, daughters, girlfriends grabbed shotguns as well, each one motivated by the history of death, hurt, looting, outrage and impunity just like with Commander Rose.

“They raped a niece. They picked her up, they wanted to kidnap her, they didn’t but they raped her…they jumped my husband, they hit him and pointed a gun at his head to threaten him”, Rose said.

Then the Commander felt anger and beyond and rose up in arms. She almost dominates the use of the rifle. Every day she’s going to a remote area with other women and together they practice target shooting.

Rose knows how to use a 38 mm gun and other weapons of small and medium calibers. With them she walks the dirt road and monitors the Health Center, the Community command, the primary school, the church, and the area of the cemetery and participates in operations. The young mother leaves her minor children in the care of their grandmother. She doesn’t have a choice, as she’s the State’s authority; she abandons them to their fate.

“The police left us in the hands of the criminals and up until now we are alone. If there is a roadblock, they come for 40 minutes and then leave. We wanted them to stay here, because we couldn’t anymore,” he says.

                                                                                  ***

Evening falls in Xaltianguis and outside of the Community Police Headquarters there’s a pair of men with shotguns and another two women guarding the place. It’s a busy day. Last night an armed commando attacked Damian Huato Pioquinto, president of the National Chamber of Commerce (Canaco) of Chilpancingo, Guerrero and murdered his daughter-in-law, while his son and himself were injured.

Pioquinto is well known in the region and one of the principal defenders of the Community Police.

A woman reproduces a video of the rally that occurred in Ocotito, a neighboring town that’s about 60 kilometers from Xaltianguis, passing Tierra Colorada, where Pioquinto confronts the mayor of Chilpancingo, Mario Moreno Arco: “I knew you poor, now explain yourself to the people where your money comes from,” he said in a bitter way, and that’s the reason why Antonia Juárez,50 year-old, admires him.

It’s a bizarre day. The majority of the policewomen are transported to Ocotito and to Chilpancingo, which is the next target of the community.

“They’re getting organized to rule over Chilpancingo”, Antonia says deliberately. In Xaltianguis only a few policewomen are present.

Antonia wears denim trousers and black moccasins. She doesn’t have any makeup on and is vigilant, waiting for the attack of the offender. She’s frightened, she knows she’s exposed and is aware that she can die but it doesn’t matter.

“I shouldn’t be here, but I give my life for my children,” she says with watery eyes. She remembers what she was one day: a housewife who would get up early to prepare breakfast, take a hot shower and get ready to open the family business, a modest pharmacy.

She was in the pharmacy all day. She didn’t have to transport herself to town to work. In that place she would wait for her two college sons to arrive and there was enough time to give them something to eat and go back to work afterwards.

“We shouldn’t be doing this; on the contrary we should be with our families and working a normal job. We had to come to this. Nobody who’s here wishes to play the part that doesn’t correspond to each one,” she says.

Antonia refers to the obligation of the State to provide security to the population, a chore that had been abandoned for years.

That’s why this woman decided to leave her work in the pharmacy and turned to firearms. She had enough when in a shooting, a stray bullet killed the son of her neighbor, a young man of 22 years, and with another misfortune it was a sign of relief for the rest of the villagers.

“My neighbor was abducted and found in a month, but nothing more other than bones. When they started the kidnappings, while they had someone kidnapped it was calm, he would say: ‘Right now they are being entertained, they have food’, but when they would let him loose, they would wait a while to choose the next victim”, she tells.

The bandits in the region were used to kidnap an inhabitant and with them the entire town, because the amount of the bailouts ranged from 500 thousand to five million pesos.

So then the entire village would meet and cooperate to pay the release of the hostage and wait that they would still be alive.

Under this modus operandi they abducted the owner of the pharmacy that was best stocked, the mini super which sold fruits, a student, and a taxi driver.

That was how Ofelio was abducted in February 2012 when was showing his new worker how to use the scales in his grocery store.

“They came in a white Tsuro, they were three and were wearing hoods because they are well known here, working with the bands of the region. The vehicle was of a neighbor, one that I always greet.  Unexpectedly I had one in front and another behind me with a machine gun: ‘Move, son of a bitch’, I was told and I only said: ‘don’t point me with that, you might shoot me’, afterwards they hit me and threw me into the Tsuro”, narrates Ofelio.

Ofelio’s abduction lasted three days, before being rescued with help of the Marines. They had asked for three million but they didn’t manage it.

During his rescue they captured several of his captors but the others were still roaming free and were seen traveling the streets of Xaltianguis.

The white Tsuru still passed by in front of Ofelios establishment and he would bite his lips to contain his frustration.

“This is why we want the community security guards to stay, because if they leave they will start charging us, including money interests,” Antonia states.

The day when Antonia was waiting vigilantly the attack of the delinquents that always has the towns that are protected by the Community Police threatened, the Governor of Guerrero, the politician Ángel Aguirre, declared in the morning in one of the best hotels of Acapulco, that what happened to Pioquinto was “a separate case”.

Antonia laughs out loud, “We live in the reality. They live even worse in the rural zone of Acapulco in the neighborhood of Zapata, Renacimiento. They wish that somebody could help them; it’s the town where organization is a necessity, nobody will come to save your life.”

For Antonia there’s no going back; so many horrible things has happened in town that there’s no way to forget it.

The women have suffered in flesh and bone the humiliation of the covert crime committed by impunity.

They were sexually assaulted, raped, kidnapped and murdered.

“Never in my life I thought I would find myself here. We’re housewives, mothers not delinquents, but we had to do it. Right there at the edge of the river they raped a woman from here, in front of her husband and after that; a girl. It’s still not like in Ayutla, in Costa Chica where they arrive and tell the men: “Bathe your daughter because I’m taking her and your wife, too.’ Thank the Lord it’s not like that,” she says.

                                                                                        ***

In 2009 Asunción worked in a fast food restaurant in New York. As an immigrant she didn’t have all the rights, but she lived all right, she felt comfortable in the most cosmopolitan city of the US. But then the economic crisis struck and she felt obliged to leave the country Anglo-Saxon in the company of her two children, a year after. She did not care and tried to cope with the situation in the best way. Asunción still remembered the small town of Guerrero from where she came from: its narrow streets, although bumpy, quiet and peaceful. The most exquisite wings of quail that she ate not far from the boundaries of Xaltiguinguis and of course, her family that awaited her.

Asunción returned content and full of wished to see her people. Her husband stayed in New York to work and to send her money for her and their sons. Neither of them suspected the security dilemma that México was undergoing and that her sons of 14 and 8, would be more insecure and vulnerable as ever.

“I’ve been here for 3 years since then and everything is very different when I first left. A lot of them died because of the kidnapping; when they couldn’t pay the ransom money. One would see the hooded men pass by and you had to hide because if you would find them face-to-face they would point a gun at you. The town was theirs, it wasn’t yours and plenty of people lost their entire family; parents, sons, husband, wife, the whole family,” says a woman of 36 years old.

It was May 12, 2012 when the situation changed drastically for Asunción. That day an armed commando intercepted her uncle, aunt and her 13-year-old daughter when they were traveling in their van and they pulled them over.

“She was my aunt, they killed her behind the cemetery, she went with her husband to see his cattle and a girl of 13 years old. The three were killed by more than 50 gunshots that struck the van,” she says in a sad whisper.

Her chin shakes and a knot forms in her throat. Her situation changed from August, when she took up arms, and became a community policewoman.

She now walks the streets of Xaltianguis; participates in operations and detains delinquents. Now she’s resolved to make justice by her hand and to not permit a crime against her or her family.

In each criminal she searches the face of her aunt and uncle’s killer. Asunción can’t rest, the hurt in her lost won’t let her sleep.

“I just wish to know who did it and why. You stay with that doubt; they weren’t bad people, why did they do that to them? Unfortunately they died and there’s nothing that can make them relive,” she says while her dark stare spark with anger.

With assassination of her aunt, it was all Asunción needed to register several guns in her name to defend herself in her house and in the streets of Xaltianguis. She learned how to use several calibers and started to travel in between towns to teach other women who are exhausted of the violence and want to confront the offender.

When the women of Xaltianguis raised their guns in defense, the news spread through the air like an illness that contaminated others. Each time there’s more.

“This is the town that started, after in Two Roads 12 women started it up and in Ocotito there’s already 11 and it’s incorporating in other towns. Lots of women don’t let our guard down, we are more impulsive then the men, because they have a bit more fear about what may happen, like what happened with Pioquinto. Including my husband in New York doesn’t know I’m here, but I do it for my children.

                                                                                  ***

At camp of the Community Police when they had just taken Ocotito a week ago everything is in a bustle. Dozens of men come and go with their old hunting shotguns, while the women cook on an improvised stove some chicken wings, white rice and black beans to feed the troops.

Some make handmade corn tortillas, others prepare oat water that tastes like horchata, and a few more serve the food to the community people that arrive half-starving. They are skinny men with bony shoulders, hollow cheekbones and of medium stature.

All of the men; young, old and mature hunch underneath the camps carp which is sustained by four posts and a corrugated iron roof.

The townspeople are threatened with death by the bandits that operate in the region. The same goes to the flustered people of Xaltianguis, Tierra Colorada, of Dos Caminos; by those who violate murder, extort and kidnap in total impunity. Those attacked on the eve the leader Pioquinto Damian Huato and killed his daughter-in-law.


But at the campsite the children run and play with the dogs. In the middle of the tension, the women support the men however they can and take their children with them because no safer place to leave them.

“I help with my work, I support the community people so that they will stay and not leave us alone,” Maribel Sánchez says, of 64 years old who serves rice in a chain of feminine hands.

Lucía González Cartagena walks nearby. She has on a white dress that makes her brown skin stand out. She’s 62 years old, from the neighbor town Two Roads, but has lived in Ocotito for more than 30 years.

She has a just-out-of-the-shower scent. Her perfume is of fresh flowers and she has on flat, elegant sandals. She’s very cheerful, for her it’s a day for celebration.

“We want our town to be serene, we didn’t live in dread nor did we hide. I knew that when these people arrived, the chaos would calm down as they smoothed things out in other towns. They were in Red Dirt and they made peace come alive again and I would say to myself, ‘Why don’t they come over here?’ I was anxious to see those people come; I felt they would fix the situation in which we’re living in unease, threats and death,” she says.

Lucía has suffered a loss: “her young niece of less than 30 years old, disappeared on July 24 and nobody didn’t do anything.

“They took my sister’s daughter that has never come back, a young lady that they say they trunked. She worked in Chilpancingo at her own corner store. Lots of things were happening; it only took a van making its way down when we would lock ourselves up. It’s enough, we’re tired of our government that doesn’t do anything,” she says determinedly.

Nayeli Vásquez García of 34, collaborates with the cause in a different way: She’s part of the 11 women of the Community Police of Ocotito, she does guard work, she monitors the adjacent colonies to the camp and receives training for the handling of weapons.

“It’s been awhile since I hadn’t lived here, I lived in the US for 15 years and came back to find my town destroyed. That was the reason why I decided to fight back and for the future of my son, to leave him a better world,” Nayeli says with a flicker of a smile.

The young woman has a son of 2 years and three older ones in the US. Her older sons only know what happens in Mexico from the news, but they don’t know that their mother is trapped in a town that smells of death.

“We started with five women and now we’re 11 that are being convinced. We feel like we need to go forward and fight back. We know how to handle a gun and they’re teaching us how to defend ourselves and to die standing up, not kneeled, nor on all fours, locked up in a trunk or thrown out somewhere. It’s more frightening doing nothing than sitting around and hearing that they’re coming,” she says in a flat voice.

Nayeli has her 2 year-old son. She never leaves him and always hopes that both of them will come out safe and left out of the dangerous movement.

“We’ve already done it, we are confronting so now there’s no turning back no matter what. Right now we’re helping with food, making sure they eat, we move, we get organized, we go to the neighborhoods where our partners can’t move; not even to go out and eat. We go out to make our rounds, and if they call us, we go out and aid our people and we’re staying until it’s over. We can’t go anywhere else,” she says defiantly.

Nayeli is conscious that the serenity of the town won’t be back in 8 or 10 days. Without the State Police, the town was in total control of the kidnappers and violators.

Now the town have raised their guns to defend and they won’t stop, they are hundreds of townspeople, even if they don’t exceed in weaponry they do so in number.

“They are hundreds and hundreds who come down the side of the mountain. They’re peasants and look at their rifles; their old that they stored in their homes,” Nayeli says.

For Octavio Maganda Gallardo, promoter of the UPOEG, commissioner of Ocotito, the success of the uprising is not a question of weapons, but of organization.

And there, the women, play a very important role for the movement, he says.

“Without them, we definitely could not do this. They not only give us something to eat, they are also fighting and are very brave, more courageous than many men,” he ensures.

This Text  is in the shortlisted entrants in the Local Reporter category in the 2014 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism, and was published in SINEMBARGO.MX  http://www.sinembargo.mx/03-02-2014/892320

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