Clandestine Detention Centers
Sanjuana Martínez    October 3, 2011

“There were a lot of people, around a thousand people, mostly men, mostly young. They tortured, raped, killed. They did whatever they wanted to whoever. Day after day. I served them for months. Then, a day like any other, they let me go with a warning; don't say anything or we'll kill you and your family." 

This statement comes from a survivor of a clandestine detention center run by the Mexican Army in a certain border state. The identity, for obvious reasons, is reserved. Another testimony: “It was like a sports center, a gymnasium. We were all blindfolded, but when they beat me, the blindfold moved and I could see. We were stripped on arrival. They hung me up by my hands to beat me with a wooden plank. I thought they were going to kill me. There were many of us. I could only hear the screams and cries of the others. They told me: 'One already died on us. Do you want to be the next? Cooperate. Say the Marines rescued you' - the captors demanded - 'Say you're a Zeta, that you sell drugs, that you're with organized crime', recalls Daniel Rodríguez Morales who was detained in a door-to-door operation by the Marines in the San Pedro 400 neighborhood in San Pedro Garza García, Nuevo León and is now jailed in the Apodaca prison.One more: “They kidnapped us between Ciudad Victoria and Matamoros. They came out at us from a rural intersection. They said they were Zetas, that we were going to work for them. They took us to an emcampment in the bush where they were holding other people - all men. To entertain themselves, they would kill people, one by one. They had us there for months, until I escaped," tells a migrant from San Luis Potosí who was searching for a brother in the morgues along the border.And finally: “They came into the houses in the middle of the night. They took them to the Motel California in Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas. That's where they had set up a barracks for the Marines. The ones they let go say in that place they were torturing and they saw how people would die," assures a relative of a missing person from Sabinas Hidalgo, Nuevo León.These testimonies and others confirm the suspicions that in Mexico, Clandestine Detention Centers are operating. We don't know how many, but we can determine who is operating them; organized crime, the Army, and the Marines.Throughout history, concentration camps have been used in different countries to lock up political dissidents, ethnic groups, religious minorities and people of a determined sexual orientation. It's important to point out that unlike camps for prisoners of war, concentration camps are used to lock up non-combatants, without trial or individual guarantees. During Felipe Calderon's war systematic human rights vioations have been documented. The army has racked up more than 5,000 abuse reports and the Marines continue to blaze a path of abuses and military impunity. In both instances, there are cases documented by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and non-governmental organizations of torture, summary executions, and forced dissappearance. Where do the people detained without a warrant by the Army and the Marines end up? Apparently, in a clandestine detention camp. They install them wherever; in a sports center like in San Nicolás de los Garza, Nuevo León; in a rodeo ring like in Hidalgo, Coahuila; or in a transitory motel like in Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas.Since Calderon decided to order the Army into the streets, the national territory has become covered in improvised barracks. They're set up for several months in any place in the republic. They're moved around from motels, ranches, or fairgrounds - leaving a trail of cases of forced disappearances.The unlawful confinement of citizens occurs amid the complicit silence of many; members of Congress, senators, judges, police investigators, journalists, officials from different levels of government. The majority prefer to look the other way. But the cases abound. Some estimates put the number of missing persons at more than 30,000. There are no statistics, much less official numbers. The cases of dissappeared persons accumulate within the civil society organizations dedicated to the defense of human rights - despite state indolence and governmental inaction.These secret facilities used by organized crime and the armed forces shared the modis operandi of the systematic disssappearance of persons. They existed in Argentina during the military dictatorship. From 1976 to 1983 there were around 15 Clandestine Detention Centers (CDC), divided into two categories: the Detainee Gathering Facilities, with the capacity for holding, torturing and executing a large number of people and the Transitional Facilities which had a provisional organization structure for the time in which the dissappeared-detainees were transferred to other clandestine centers.The plan in Felipe Calderon's war against drugs includes forced dissappreances, torture, and summary executions of civilians. If the generals and admirals focus on violating constitutional rights under the pretext of the fight against organized crime, they become common criminals with official authorization. Where there are Clandestine Detention Centers, there are also paramilitaries and where there are paramilitaries, there are death squads. And in the Mexico of today, we are dealing with this triumverate of death.The conclusions the September 26 to 30th visit from an Inter American Commission on Human Rights investigator: the government of Felipe Calderón is not applying the necesary measures to search for and investigate the thousands of cases of dissappeared persons. “Forced dissappearances are what most concern this investigation because it is the most atrocious of crimes as it affects the victims and puts the victim's family through the worst type of anguish,” said special investigator Rodrigo Escobar Gil.To end up in “narco-kitchens”, the vulgar term for the extermination camps in Mexico where bodies are cooked and dissolved in acid or incinerated, the dissappeared first have to have passed through Clandestine Detention Centers. How many are out there? Where are they located?Holocaust survivor Jorge Semprún summed up his terrible experience in the Buchenwald camp before he died thusly...Do you know what the most prominent thing is for someone who has come through a camp? Do you know exactly what it is? Do you know what is so important and terrible that it is the only thing that cannot be explained? The smell of burning flesh. What can you do with the memory of the smell of burning flesh? It's inside of my head, vivid, the most overwhelming smell of a concentration camp. I can't describe it. It's a smell that will go with me as it has already gone with others”.

If I Capture a Zeta, I Will Kill Him, Why Interrogate Him; Police Chei

Take a ride with a general on a military operation, as the Jornada reporter Sanjuana Martinez conducts an interview while the military convoy tours the area.

The retired general Bibiano Villa Carlos Castillo does not beat around the bush: "To save Torreón we have to have balls." He is the Director of Public Safety and unequivocally, he adds; "Military personnel are trained for combat. No cowards. We had civilians that at the times of "chingadazos" (fighting) they folded. Previously they use to chase the cops around here, now none of that shit, we now chase them and kill them when we catch them. Here we fuck up anyone who is bad."

He dresses in a navy blue shirt and trousers, wears a helmet along with a ballistic vest. He Wields the handgun he carries when he goes to bed, he takes out the magazine, checks his rounds and, locks and loads. It's a Magnum 44 which he holsters around his waist. He grabs his sniper rifle G3 with retractable stock 7.62 caliber, capable of penetrating armor. He grabs a radio and two cell phones. He then gives an order with absolute command: "Let’s go," and walks away toward the parking lot followed by members of his personal guard which is composed of 114 military soldiers.

It's four in the afternoon and six trucks carrying about 30 armed masked military men are waiting for him to start "hunting thugs" in the "hot spots" of the city dominated by Los Zetas who are fighting Los Chapos. He boards a maroon SUV and starts an interview with  a reporter of the national newspaper La Jornada inside the vehicle.

On March 2nd during a similar operation he was ambushed. Gunmen traveling in five trucks intercepted his convoy and fired over 500 rounds at him. The shield of the armored truck rated at level six saved his life. Six policemen were wounded. Is not the first time sicarios have tried to kill him since he took office. That time he knew that one of his own betrayed him: "Who was it? ... If I knew, I would have killed the bastard. Those who sell us out do not deserve to live."

At the start of the operation he adds: "I like the adrenaline. I come on patrol. When I capture a Zeta or Chapo I kill him. Why interrogate him? What is he going to tell San Pedro of what he did. The military has their own security and intelligence, they don't need his information. Believe me, The day when they capture me they are not going to cover me with kisses. Right? They are going to tear me apart. So what? That's what I'm exposed to. The day it's my turn, we will settle things, period."

General Villa Carlos Castillo operates with the ethics of the "iron fist," that is what mayors and governors of several states have decided to institute in police agencies that have increasingly become more militarized.

Foco Rojo

When asked about his lineage, he smiles with pride. He is the grandson of Jesus Arango, alias El Bizco cousin of Doroteo Arango, better known as Francisco Villa: "I feel proud because he was a great fighter. He practiced guerrilla warfare, and now it's my turn to fight the urban guerrillas. Each one with their own training."

He says he knows the enemy very well, so much so that during the ride, he was listening to them from a radio frequency that he had intercepted. Clearly the sicarios are heard recounting an operation step-by-step: "Right now they know where we are. They transmit everywhere. Taxi drivers warn them, they are halcones. They even call me 'el viejillo loco'. The sons of bitches respect no one."

Last year, the Comarca Lagunera region that is located in Torreon, Coahuila, Gomez Palacio and Lerdo, Durango, was the second most violent place in Mexico after Ciudad Juarez, with 689 drug-related killings.

In Torreón the murders and massacres in bars and nightclubs have doubled. Starting from 2008 Los Zetas took control of the plaza corrupting most cops. When the general took charge as chief he fired more than 500 officers. Today he commands 1014 officers: "That cabron who does not want to work, a chingar a su madre. Period. Here we pay well (8 thousand pesos). We accomplish three objectives: to give every police officer a house, major medical insurance and life insurance worth up to 700,000 pesos. So the ones who want to collect life insurance, well they can die."

General Villa Castillo, 62, majored in telecommunications. Was trained for 16 years. He received training in Israel. He has two degrees and a masters. He has a scanner valued at 4 million pesos to intercept calls "from the enemy." He is convinced that the Chapos live in Gomez Palacio, Durango, and Los Zetas in Matamoros, Coahuila. Both are competing for the territory of Torreon.

The convoy of his operation passes through the river Nazas that separates the two states, where sicarios leave mutilated bodies all the time. The river has four bridges: yellow, black, silver and the Union, but at length of over 50 km there are more than 15 clandestine trails used by Chapos, who are named as such because several drug cartels joined the Sinaloa cartel to take over Torreon.

While patrolling one can see patrol cars along the river that forms part of the so called Sellamiento Nazas, a joint operation that aims to control the flow of criminals in the region: "We do work, it's not just because a reporter is with us that we are pretending to be patrolling. All day we are involved in this. They go through there. Can you see the bullet holes on the vehicles?

Hazardous Territory
The city is divided into nine high conflict areas, especially the poorest, now converted into a battlefield. The hills are full of very poor homes and form part of the majority of the misery in the region. The dust of the desert raises high to the conspicuous movement of the convoy. The people look with suspicion, rush away and go inside their homes immediately. Within minutes the streets are deserted.

We enter the Cerro de la Cruz, a region controlled by Los Chapos. There is only one paved road, the rest are primitive passages. A network of dirt roads that makes it harder for police to work. The place is full of halcones and is perfect for ambushes. The young people in the corners are not worried by the passing of the authority "they are the same," says the general who since taking charge of the police force has lost six policemen in gunfights and has sustained 76 confrontations with criminals, "What happens is that those bastards never give full battle. They just fire in bursts and then flee. The advantage we have is our weapons, shot by shot, but well aimed. That is why they have a lot of casualties. We have killed about 200 of them."

"Six lost, compared to 200 ... does that mean we are winning the war like Felipe Calderon says?"

"The problem is that we kill a few of them and more come out, is like we pick up another stone and still more ... Very few civilians have been killed. We always aim carefully to kill the drug dealer. Never a civilian. When they see when the shooting starts, they start running and everyone hits the ground to protect themselves."

Organized crime has found the best breeding ground for their particular army of "burreros" and sicarios in the Comarca Lagunera region, hundreds of unemployed youth, drug users and the forgotten by the politicians of the State.

Villa Castillo joined the Army at the age of 16 by order of his mother. He was the second of 36 children his father had with six women. He says that he is incorruptible and loyal to the death: "I'm not ashamed to say it: my father is the Army and my mother the homeland. To them I owe everything. They educated me, indoctrinated me and prepared me for this."

War is war, and therefore justifies military codes. The operation of patrol now passes through the Alianza mercado, a highly contentious area. Many businesses have left due to extortion and violence. We then crossed the tracks and we enter the legendary community Durangueña, a common scene of shootings and executions, and controlled by Los Zetas. "I distrust the Federal Police because they do not kill, just apprehend. But the Mexican Army and Marines, they kill."

The next residential region of poverty and misery is the San Joaquin region, a lot of alleys here: "They are places ideal for an ambush. It's hard to get out of here. They are entrenched on the hills and from there they shoot at us but now we bring long-range weapons with telescopic sights. We can pick out any bastard that is a mile away. We just see them fall ... The ethics of sicarios or narcos has been lost, they are now just murderers. They used to have ethics even when they killed, but now they come and tear everything up to pieces."

The Cerro de las Noas, famous for the Christ protector, is now a setting for the bloodiest of battles. In the recess of the hills Los Zetas turn them into bunkers with entrenched snipers: "The other day we had to go there to kill six 'cabrones' and we did kill them. What is the problem?"

- What were they Zetas or Chapos? 


- How do you know if you don't question or talk to them ... 

"We knew because they had stolen some of our guns, and we found them there."

There are laws general. You decide who should live or die ... Don't you think that is up to God to decide?

"Yes, but we need to give him a little help."

-If one of them approaches you to talk ... 

"I kill him where he stands. I fuck him up."

- Kill then ask questions later? 

"That is how it should be. It's a code of honor."

For the general, human rights are something that are not working like they should. He says the work of the National Commission on Human Rights is good, but "has not fulfilled its functions." It should protect the injured and appears to defend the offender."

The convoy of the operation passes through the community of Primero de Mayo. The wooden huts of Zaragoza Sur y Norte stand towards the Avenue of Las Mieleras: "They hide in the rocks. Every so often we go up and take away their parapets. They are armed with "cuerno de chivo" rifles 270 with telescopic sights."

After an hour and a half of patrolling the Chief orders a return to the barracks. Next to his office there is a living space. It has a bed, exercise equipment and a sauna: "I work all year, Sundays and holidays. I do not take vacations. My entertainment? ... My recreation are women. Tonight I have body to body fight in the ring, which is a bed. Who wins? Them, I give every chance to the women."

Some time after the interview it was announced that the retired general would be transferred to the Ministry of Public Security (SSP) of Quintana Roo.

Source: La Jornada


Common crime wins in the turbid river of insecurity in Monterrey 

Sanjuana Martínez
La Jornada newspaper

Sunday, February 27, 2011, page 10 

"Laid back Wednesday" nights in the Altata Sinaloa Seafood restaurant in Monterrey became popular for its 2-for-1 beers, seasoned shrimp, and live music. Last February 16th, however, was anything but laid back. A commando of seven men with ski masks and "AFI vests" showed up shooting assault rifles in the air, robbed customers, and raped nine women. [Translator's note: AFI is the Federal Investigative Agency, the Mexican equivalent of the FBI.]

It happened at 11:55pm, when there were more than 100 people. That night's enjoyable atmosphere turned into tragedy. The band stopped playing "El Baleado" when the masked men entered. Some customers took advantage of these first moments of confusion and screaming to flee. During a few minutes there was a terrifying silence, broken by the first orders at gunpoint: "Everybody on the ground - cell phones, wallets, purses!".

Two men picked up the spoils table by table. Next came the worst part: "The women to the other side. The men stay here", ordered the leader. A couple was hidden under a table. The ski-masked man threw over the table and grabbed the women as her partner tried to hang on to her. He then pointed the end of his assault rifle's barrel at his head and barked: "Let her go asshole or I'll fuck you up!". The young man finally let her go. "No, no, no!", she screamed, as they took her away.

The agonizing scene of separation of women repeated itself. The worst prediction played out when they got to the back: "Take off your clothes! All of your clothes!", they told them. Now naked, the criminals went about choosing. They took the women to the bathrooms or to the kitchen and raped them without minding that the others could see. The seven hooded men did what they wanted. 

Identification Cards

The restaurant is an open air bar with a palm-thatched roof with plastic tarps to shelter clients from the cold. Those who were seated near the edges were able to escape while the criminals were busy carrying out rapes and the robbery, which included 70 thousand pesos [about $6,500 USD] from the restaurant's cash reserves. As they finished, they warned: "We have your cell phones and your identification cards here. Whoever dares report this is going to get fucked up along with their family". 

A cell phone rang. One of the assailants moved towards the young man to whom it belonged and hit him with the rifle in the head and the ribs: "Car keys!" the ringleader demanded. They then chose which vehicles to steal after making the owners identify them. 

The hooded men left the restaurant by the back exit with various naked women. "Let's go, get in!", they yelled as the women cried. Some underwear was left at the scene. There were also blood stains: "Three or four young ladies ran past here. They stopped on Revolución Avenue and got into a taxi. They were crying", says a witness.

The bar, now shut down, is in the Rincón de la Primavera neighborhood, near Revolución Avenue. It's been a week since those events. It's 10 at night and the atmosphere is calm. There are various food spots nearby. Some employees who were also working that horrible night agree it was an authentic nightmare. "One of the girls ran out. As soon as she turned the corner, she found a police patrol car parked in the gas station and she got in; but the police made her get out. They were protecting the bad guys. They are one in the same, those from the state police, and that's why the south part of the city is like it is", narrates a witness. 

Two days later, only Altata's owner had filed a complaint with the police. 

Common crime

The authorities justify their lack of action and consider what happen to be "rumors", arguing that there are no citizen police reports, but in blogs and social networks the victims unload and offer their testimonies. At 1:30am, some young men whose names have been withheld for security reasons, began to tell about what they lived through: “They robbed some girls, took off their clothes, and raped them...we had been having a good time, man, with the guys from the band singing 'El Baleado'", writes one youth in Facebook.

Another answers: "They struck me with a rifle butt in the head and in the ribs and hit me in the face... I was in the broads' bathroom and they had them take off their clothes and leaned them over and fucked one".

The first one adds: "I was in the men's room and they sent me to the kitchen and they were fucking two in there".

Another young victim spoke to La Jornada via email about what had happened: “When I was going to throw myself on the ground one of them kicked me in the back and I landed face down. They were wearing ski masks and AFI vests and jeans. They made the women take their clothes off, but the position I had landed in was facing the front part so I didn't see what else they did to them. From what I heard, they took away several. Because they said: 'Let's go, get in!' and one of them was screaming". 

Marissa says that, after the attack, "my husband is a gynecologist in a private hospital. He told me that yesterday two young women, 18 and 21 years old, came to his office with their mother, saying that the day before they had been raped in a Revolución area bar along with several other women. The attack happened in front of their husband and boyfriend and that at 2am they were allowed to leave and they realized that there were two police patrol cars watching the bar. They don't want to file a police report because their identification cards were taken and they went to the gynecologist to get morning after pills to avoid a pregnancy".

Twitter and Facebook users have become sources of information and street guardians. Shootouts, robberies or blockades are announced immediately by twitter users, often before they're reported in traditional media outlets.

Three days after the events in the Altata restaurant, a commando of 3 men using bandannas to cover their faces charged into the Carl Jr's hamburger restaurant in the southern part of the city at 9pm during a kid's party. There were more than 50 customers there. One of the assailants fired shots into the air. Panic took over. Among children's screams, the men stole 3 thousand pesos from the cash register and robbed a customer of his belongings. He opted to not file a police report.

Weeks earlier, the Starbuck's on Eugenio Garza Sada Avenue, also in the south, was severely punished by criminal elements. The same happened to two Los Generales restaurant franchises, La Anacua, Las Alitas: "There have been more than 10 violent hold ups of businesses in recent weeks", says Jorge Guerrero Martínez, president of the National Chamber of the Restaurant and Condiment Industry (Canirac). He adds that it's a group of robbers that focuses on restaurants and recognizes that these businesses have reported a drop of up to 75 percent in night time business.

Monterrey nights have changed drastically due to the insecurity. The city's streets are empty after 9pm. Crime statics compiled by a private sector initiative are clear; robberies targetting businesses have risen 75 percent, aggravated homicides have risen 526 percent, and car thefts are up 620 percent. The report also mentions police corruption.

The robberies don't just affect restaurants. Supermarkets, hospitals, private firms, and homes have also suffered robberies: "The data indicates that this is the work of common criminals and not organized crime, who are taking advantage of society's fear. I ask victims to come forward and report", says Jorge Domene, spokesperson of Nuevo León Security.

The Crime-Complaint Binominal

But the crime rate doesn't match the number of complaints filed with the police. People are scared because of threats. On Sunday, February 20th, three gunmen held up a medical facility in the Nogalar neighborhood, robbed patients and 90 thousand pesos in cash reserves. The same happened in the Women's Medical Center in the Obispado neighborhood, where a masked gunman entered and robbed two women of their purses.

In light of the wave of robberies, the Canirac distributes a training manual for employees. "To bring back tranquillity", the mayor of Monterrey, Fernando Larrazabal, promotes the so-called panic button in restaurants, bars and businesses, at a cost of between 8 thousand and 10 thousand pesos, while the municipality of Guadalupe has already began to hand them out for free. 

A witness to the events en the Altata restaurant says one can no longer live in Monterrey as before: "I experienced what happened at the seafood restaurant, the next day in the Smart supermarket, and yesterday there was another by my house in Sierra Ventana. We've already grown accustomed to the shootouts".