~ This essay was originally published by Ríodoce on October 18, 2015 ~
If the problem is not addressed it could provoke a humanitarian crisis. This is not an exaggeration. There are hundreds of communities in the sierra of Sonora, Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa that are at risk of being abandoned, from the fear of the heavy-handed approach of the Marine forces undertaking operations in the supposed search for Joaquín Guzmán Loera, El Chapo, the government’s favorite villain. Tens of thousands of residents.
Just the images of houses attacked by the Marines from their helicopters lets one imagine the terror these operations have awakened in the population. Are they based on intelligence? That is what they claim. But no, they are not based on intelligence: what the Mexican armed forces are applying in these zones, with the assistance of the United States government (DEA, CIA, ICE) is a strategy similar to that known as “scorched earth.”
It has been used since antiquity and consists of denying the enemy logistical support. In conventional warfare, entire towns are destroyed. It was applied in part by the Mexican Army in the fight against guerrillas in Guerrero in the 1960s and 1970s, and more recently, following the Zapatista uprising, similar abuses were reported.
In the case at hand, the towns are not destroyed, but the fundamental intention seems to be the same: isolate the enemy, in this case Guzmán Loera, el Chapo. It is not an army, but a man, that the government is facing, but one with a capacity to avoid operations on the level of only a few guerrilla groups in the history of Latin America. The difference is that in this case, el Chapo does not attack, he is pursued.
It is true that the head of the Sinaloa Cartel moves through the highlands like a fish in water. And there is not, it is believed, a more secure place for him than in some areas of the western Sierra Madre. And this is because, out of interest in the same communities that live from the planting and distribution of marijuana and opium poppy, the sharks of narcotrafficking have created solid bases of support in these zones. They do not just know the territory like the backs of their hands, but they also are protected by a web of obvious and historic complicities. Nobody is going to betray El Chapo there, of this the government is well aware, and that is why their only recourse is to “burn” towns and communities, destroying this fabric to isolate and surround him.
That is why they have also suspended the flights of light aircraft from the valley of Culiacán and almost the entire center of Sinaloa. The Marines have surrounded landing strips—legal and clandestine—in Navolato, La Palma, Culiacán, Mocorito, Guamúchil… because they hope to with these actions cut the capo’s channels of communication and his logistic support.
This is Enrique Peña Nieto’s war to recapture El Chapo. The consequences will soon be seen with the displacement of hundreds of residents of rural communities in Tamazula and Cosalá toward the principal towns of the municipalities.
The same thing happened four months ago when, in Tamazula, Marine forces attacked towns and burned vehicles in the search for leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel who came from those towns. It was, by all lights, an attempt to impose terror, to undermine the social bases of support for the narcos, to isolate them.
And if the Marines gained fame for carrying out precise, intelligence-based operations, here they seem to be punching blind. Their attacks are dispersed, the results nil. Quite the opposite: wherever they go, they leave the impression of a “gorilla” institution that systematically violates individual rights. Bad news for a country that needs clean, upstanding armed forces. Bad for a government as disgraced on matters of human rights.
Worse still for the population, which is suffering the ravages of a frustrated government that, beyond being an accomplice of narcotrafficking, has demonstrated its inability to impose its own rules.
Ball and Chain
Were they really looking for him? That was the point-blank question of someone in the Ríodoce newsroom when we discussed the report from NBC that affirmed that they had found evidence that El Chapo had been wounded in the leg during one of the Marines’ attacks. And the question is very pertinent. Are we really supposed to believe that, after everything that has been revealed in the investigations into the second escape of El Chapo, they are really searching for him? If they are, it is only a question of time. But the doubt is there, and fully justified.
In the middle of the complaints of abuse against the Marines and the Army, the governor unveiled the golden letters honoring the centennial of the Mexican Air Force on the wall of honor in the state congress. It was an event, clearly, that he took advantage of to offer his absolute backing of the armed forces. What else could you expect?
Ismael Bojórquez is an editor of Ríodoce, a weekly news magazine published from Culiacán, Sinaloa and writes the weekly column “Altares y sótanos.” This essay was originally published with the title “Ahora los desplazados… por la Marina” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/altares-y-sotanos/ahora-los-desplazados-por-la-marina.The images included here are from Ríodoce’s photo-essay “Los rostros del miedo: los desplazados por la búsqueda de “El Chapo” en Tamazula” and are available here: http://riodoce.mx/galerias/los-rostros-del-miedo-los-desplazados-por-la-busqueda-de-el-chapo-en-tamazula
Translation by Michael Lettieri, Trans-Border Institute