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The Cartel Carousel

Power shifts in Chihuahuan towns, but violence goes on.


Lorenzo held forth on the subject of drug cartels for about half an hour quite unselfconsciously even though we were in a pretty public place. I didn't stop him.

He was telling me what he knew about which drug cartels controlled which towns in the state of Chihuahua. His source of information was mainly his brother-in-law, who he said was a "mule" (transporter) for the Juarez Cartel. We stood in a park in Las Cruces.

I shot him a little wary look (Don't you care that your relative is in danger?). After that he used the work "friend" more often to talk about his source.

The center of Ciudad Juarez is still held by the Juarez Cartel, he said, even though the rest of Juarez is controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel. The Valle de Juarez, along the Rio Grande to the east of the city and probably the place most devastated by the conflict in the past few years, is now in the grip of the Juarez Cartel, he said. Lorenzo claimed Cuauhtemoc, a city an hour to the west of Chihuahua City, belonged to Sinaloa.

"I think Casas Grandes is the Juarez Cartel," he said. He didn't know about Ascension.

"I know Nicolas Bravo is Juarez," he said. And Madera, too, he added. A tiny town in that area called Alamalillo, with about 40 houses, was almost entirely abandoned, mostly in 2009. Lots of houses were burned, and more than 30 people were disappeared. These towns are a couple hours south of Casas Grandes.

The Copper Canyon and the city of Parral on the border with Durango belong to Sinaloa, he claimed. The southern town of Guadalupe y Calvo, the most violent spot in the state, was held by the Sinaloa Cartel.

Lorenzo may have gotten some of his facts wrong, but basically, the southwestern towns of Chihuahua are dominated by the Sinaloa Cartel and the more central towns by the Juarez Cartel.

This man had a couple of legitimate mining claims in the Sierra Madre. He said part of his work procedure was to have a cup of coffee with the cartel member in control of the area first, just to let the guy know what he was up to.


With Palomas so quiet now, and with reports of the death toll in Mexico beginning to decline, it's easy to forget that other regions are still tormented by violence.

The mountain municipio of Guadalupe y Calvo, flush with the border of Durango, is the worst place in the state of Chihuahua now and has been in desperate straits for months. Southern Chihuahua in general has been violent.

Guadalupe y Calvo had a murder rate of 180 per 100,000 residents from January to May this year, while Juarez and Chihuahua City both had a rate of just 131.

Guadalupe y Calvo is as close to the state of Durango as it is to the state of Sinaloa. Culiacan, the birthplace of the Sinaloa Cartel, is the closest big city. It seems obvious that the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels are still slugging it out in Guadalupe y Calvo.

Lorenzo was probably judging the situation there prematurely by claiming it belonged to the Sinaloa cartel.

The town is one of those considered to be at the center of the "golden triangle" of drug trafficking, where the rugged mountain landscape provides a hiding place for the narcos, their fields of marijuana and poppies, and their meth labs.

The ordinary residents are in a state of chaos and fear. It is one of the worst towns for hunger and maternal mortality in the state.

On June 10, local PRI mayoral candidate Jaime Orozco was kidnapped; within a couple of days, he was found dead. Senator Javier Corral asked President Enrique Pena, also of the PRI, for help from the military. The elections were held on July 7. (In 2010 Guadalupe y Calvo Mayor Ramon Mandivil Sotelo was killed also.)

In this heightened state of "psicosis," as they call it in the Mexican press, some stories have circulated that were later denied. There was a report of gunfire breaking out at a funeral of some of those murdered and one about a kidnapping of the director of the hospital in Guadalupe y Calvo, both of which were denied by authorities.

There was a strange incident where a report on July 15 of more than 15 bodies being found along the road to Ocote was later denied.

But that story is not too hard to believe, as the Mexico City newspaper Excelsior reported 11 people being killed there one weekend in December, and La Cronica, also in the capital, reported 11 being killed in February. The narcotraficantes held four checkpoints on the highway between Guadalupe and Parral as of July 20.

From late June through mid-July, there were six small massacres of between three and five people in different towns in Chihuahua. Two were in Guadalupe y Calvo. In two cases little kids were victims.

When one cartel wins the plaza, Guadalupe y Calvo will fade out in the news to be replaced by other towns. Chihuahua and much of Mexico are still in a high state of turmoil and aren't likely to change soon.

In Chihuahua the drug traffickers are just reshuffling their cards, in terms of their power relationships. They aren't going away despite 18,000 deaths in the state since the drug war started.


On a brighter note, a fresh project has started up in Palomas, and there's a new request for donations. Health promotores (educators), in collaboration with Deming-based Border Partners, have started biking through Palomas streets on Saturday nights in an effort to rouse people to the benefits of exercise and better eating habits to combat childhood obesity.

Recently Border Partners directors Peter and Polly Edmunds went with them and 36 kids on bikes, not to mention a few local police. A truck followed them with signs exhorting people to join their campaign.

Border Partners would be happy to hear from people who can tell them how to get hold of some free or low-cost bikes and parts, because more kids would like to participate. Please call Polly if you have information or donations at (575) 546-1083.

It might also be a good time to donate to a special new program of Casa de Amor that will help you sponsor a Palomas teen in junior high or high school. The program will provide registration fees and uniforms for poor students who would otherwise drop out and be confined to a life of manual labor. For details you can contact Pat Noble at (505) 546-0451 or dpatnoble@gmail.com.




Food donations also never go out of style in Palomas. Please check
the information about several social service organizations
listed at www.desertexposure.com/palomas.




Borderlines columnist Marjorie Lilly lives in Deming.




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