Texto Finalista en la categoría Reportero Local en el 2014 Kurt Schork Awards in International Journalism
Tierra Caliente, Michoacán, May 11, 2014 (SinEmbargo).- By Shaila Rosagel/sent
Apatzingán, the last town that the self-defense group took and that was center of operations of the Caballeros Templarios, is recovering from that beating that the villagers remember as a life within the crime, but still lives with fear.
The businesses are already open; the people walk through the streets with normality, and its being a long time since their cellphones don’t receive messages of curfew from the criminals.
“We use to sell a vitamin very good for wrinkles, but when they burned, it didn’t come anymore”, says the worker of a pharmacy in downtown Apatzingán, “what burned?”, it’s responded to him, “you don’t remember when they burned the pharmacy?”, he answers back.
As the anecdote of the newly refurbished pharmacy, Apatzingán is full. Each street has a vestige: the memory of gunfights, the fear of seeing a bunch of heads stranded, the houses abandoned of the “displaced” that nobody cleans nor removes its weeds, the girl they took because “they like” her.
There are a few ones who any can talk to, without the thought that one is an “ear” of the exiled ones, from the criminal organization that introduced a way of life where most are accomplices, some for money, others for fear, and others for protection.
“Esteban”, an anonymous local warns: “is better not to talk, now you don’t If they are still with them, here everyone got paid, other owed them favors, others kept quiet-like me- because of the fear, they had a tremendous** control, partially people had the fault, because If someone fought with a neighbor, one asked Los Caballeros to “sweap” him ir give him a beating”, says.
It was daily that the Caballeros Templarios got to a local, a pharmacy, a streetstore, and told the owner:”Close, it’s an order, or you”ll be fined, or If not, your local will burn”.
They charged fines for walking on the street, using the sidewalk; for burning garbage in the ranchs, 500 pesos; for having a car, 100 pesos; for each box of lemon that got full, 5 pesos. They knew each step of “the little frogs”, as they called the army, and in each point of the one-line highway to Buenavista, Tepalcatepec, Aguililla and La Ruana, there was a Caballero Templario that monitored thru a radio who was traveling, the time, how and when for the rodes. There were people from the town that helped them.
But in February of last year the self-defense group a arrived, they rose with guns and were advancing little by little. They took the villages of: first La Ruana, Tepalcatepec, then Aguililla, there were plenty of deaths, gunfights, bodies rotten out in the open, abandoned for days.
They advanced with the help of the federal forces, the army and the marine, “the government upfront, and the self-defense group on the back”, remembers Esteban.
The highway from Apatzingan to Tepalcatepec is a cemetery with barricades. In each point where the villagers were advancing there were remains of what it cost, stones and dirt. The barricade in the exit of Apatzingan is still whole. The one of the Seminar Mayor Diocesano de San José y Santa María, closed its doors to the seminarians in august 2013 due to insecurity, it’s almost in ruins.
The barricade of Zarapito, the one in the entrance of Buenavista and the one reaching Tepalcatepec, only have dirt and leftovers of wood and bags.
“In each town they took a barricade was built, that meant it was theirs, that the place was clean”, remembers Esteban.
“Some ranchs and cattle that was taken from their owners since 2006 were returned when they presented the landwrights, and now there is no one that covers their village entrances, no one that asks for IDs or cellphone in the checking points of the self-defense.
Hot land is considered, for some, almost clean of Caballeros Templarios, even though it’s still pending the capture of Servando Gómez Martínez, best known as “La Tuta”, one of the conditions that the members of the self-defense specified to the president Enrique Peña in order to give up their guns, and that it wasn’t accomplished.
Without “La Tuta”, they gave up or registered of almost 7000 weapons was made and the leaders Estanislao Beltrán, aka “Papá Pitufo” and “Comandante 5”, delivered to Peña Nieto the image of the State Rural Force, armed and trained by the orders of Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, commissioner for the Security and Integral Development of Michoacán.
Arturo Barragán, former self-defense of Tepalcatepec and know member of the Rural Force, ensures that even thou “La Tuta” has not being captured, he will son fall.
“It’s a fact, everyone that is against the law, we will catch him. It’s not the same people, when we started there were a lot of Templarios, they were covering all Michoacan, and already heading other ways”, says.
Barragán, a man of short height and sparse moustache feels proud of his new uniform.
“Now what we want is to set the example, move forward, take care of Tepalcatepec, each city of hot land will have its Rural State Police and we will guard it, that why we are here, to serve the citizens”, says.
The fear of the villager
Before the Caballeros Templarios got Tepalcatepec, a village of 22 thousand, people used to take their chairs to the sidewalks, while the kids played ball and the women drank soda with cinnamon bread.
Then, since 2004, that ended according to Diana Gonzalez Velazquez, citizen born in Tepalcatepec.
Diana is a young woman, she is 21 years old and has a two-year old, Blanca, with a thick black and curly hair.
The girl listens to helicopters and looks to the sky surprised, while the wind rises dirt that hits her face.
The helicopter is from the Federal Police that watches the ceremonial act where the State Rural Force takes an oath to guard Tepalcatepec.
“This means a new beginning for all, with the agreement with the government, it will be united. When the autodefenses rose, everything was much better, the criminals were gone, we could walk around town, because before people didn’t go out, the town was lonely, the criminals walked the streets with guns, causing fear in people, picking up girls, woman, 12-year old girls”, says.
Diana knows the stories of several woman of town that were raped by the Caballeros Templarios. They simply took the ones they liked.
“Our parents didn’t let us out often. I didn’t go out at night, just to school, because my mother was afraid”, says 23 year-old Norma Magaña.
Norma is slender, has brown hair and big eyes. Her mother, doña Norma Magaña, 45 years old, feared that the criminals that operated in town would take her daughter.
“ I was very worried to let her go out, I was afraid that they would see her, but now, we are happy, we can calmly go to Jilotlán [de los Dolores], Jalisco tranquilas”, says the woman.
In her Mother’s day speech, during the oath of the State Rural Force, Alfreo Castillo told the self-defense that it’s their task to make sure the law is being followed, and to look for the good of the community.
“A few days ago we were approached by a woman in Apatzingán and told us ‘if you don’t enforce the law, this will become a hell with a different devil”, said Castillo.
Claudia Aguirre, 37 years old, has the same concern of the woman in Apatzingán, because even If she recognizes that their lives changed when the people rose with guns and became the self-defense, now, with the power of the government, the coin is in the air.
“It changed a lot of our lives: before we got out but had to be back by 8:00 pm, it was hard, we lived with fear, there was __ and we had our 15, 16, 17 year-old daughters with the fear that they would attract one of those”, remembers Claudia while she attends a business in downtown Tepalcatepec.
With 37 years old, Claudia has never left the town. She was born, raised and married. The woman has seeing enough to be skeptical to the new State Rural Force.
“Let’s hope that it is for the good sake of the town and that they don’t start to charge money, because we will go back to the same, like the crab walking backwards. Those, started asking for a cooperation, an aid to help take care of our town, if they go back to do the same, they make us think that we will fall in the same game that we fell before, because sometimes they tell us that we have to give something, help to keep the movement on”, says.
Claudia feels angry with the ones right now, former self-defense, because injustices are happening in town, like the inexplicable rise of the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) charges, which nobody understands.
“Is a movement where they do things in their favor, only the ones inside are getting a benefit, because they don’t take us into consideration in many things, now we have problems in the town that require their help, and they aren’t paying us attention”, says.
The woman refers to the rise of 100, 200 and even 300 % in the electricity billings.
“I use to have to pay 200 pesos, and know I have to pay 2 thousand pesos. This happens because we are not taking the electric lecture in town, its being taken in another place, now the offices of CFE are taken”, assures.
The wife of Mireles and CFE
The offices of CFE in Tepalcatepec are located in the entrance of town, in an alley next to a gas station and are taking since 7:00 am of past Tuesday.
Over the glass doors and in the walls there are posters that demand a solution to the problems of high charges of electricity and in front of the offices, there is a tent that serves as a improvised camp, where there are tables, benchs, chairs, and fridges with cold water, sodas and juices for the villagers that are on guard in a sunny and suffocating day that marks 37 degrees Celsius.
“Everything is peaceful, but we want a quick solution, because the offices aren’t opening and each day we are going to pressure more, because is money of the town, we don’t have a steady job, or a high paid one, the jobs here are occasional and they already pay us what they want”, says a women that identifies herself as Ana Valencia.
Valencia is the wife of José Manuel Mireles Valverde, former spokeman of the self-defense of Tepalcatepec and she assures that the protests against CFE has nothing to do with the self-defense, nor with his husband, but with the urgency of the population to solve the high costs.
The women exemplifies with a series of bills of Benigno Gálvez Solache, a medical surgeon that in march of 2013 received his last charge for the amount of 4 thousand 859 pesos for two months, an amount accurate to his consumption, because he owns several air conditioners.
In the series of tickets one can look how for the two months of may 2013m Benigno received a charge of 9 thousand 455 pesos, that kept rising until in November it reached 14 thousand 419 pesos.
“I even ask my kids to all sleep in the same room with one air conditioner, crowded, to see if in that way it came down, but it had the opposite effect, it got more expensive”, says Benigno.
Ana Valencia tried to deliver a letter to the commissioner Alfredo Castillo during the oath of the Rural Force, where she exposes the problem and asks him for a solution, but she couldn’t approach him.
“It was impossible to get near him with the bunch of security behind him. We put a poster in the entrance of town claiming about the charges, and someone took it so that Castillo wouldn’t see it”, says Ana.
Ana abdicates the movement of his husband Mireles and assures that she doesn’t know where he is in the last couple of days.
“I don’t know where he is. It’s being a while since I live in another house with my kids, because I don’t agree with that, I protect my family, my kids”, says.
José Manuel Mireles Valverde was expelled by the rest of the leaders of the Council of Self-defense of Michoacan (CAM) from the movement, in addition to suggest that he suffers from his mental faculties due to the aerial accident that he suffered in January and that is responsible for the death of five people.
Now, the town of Tepalcatepec, and also Buenavista and even Apatzingán, are under custody by the State Rural Police, those who promes that the Caballeros Templarios will not commit more crimes in the region, however, in the villagers, there’s still the feel of caution and fear about the future.
Fotografía: Francisco Cañedo
Traducción: David Salzar