El Hispanic News
Milwaukie, OR — The death threat Saúl Reyes Salazar received could not have been more clear. In brief it warned, “Mind your own business or we’ll cut your head off at the neck.”
That was not the first threat of that nature Reyes had received. The Chihuahua native estimated that he received five or six similar threats by phone or by mail.
These were not idle threats. In Mexico, drug cartels play rough.
Six members of Reyes’ family have been assassinated. First his sister. Then one of his brothers. Later, two other brothers and his sister-in-law were kidnapped, tortured, killed, and buried. The killers eventually dug up the bodies so they could be identified. Then his nephew was killed.
The government did not provide any help. “We demanded justice from the government,” Reyes said, “but the government is not cooperating.”
“They say all those killed are traffickers or addicts,” Reyes said, but he doesn’t believe the government’s version. Moreover, he added, there have been no investigations or trials for the killers.
“They burned my family’s houses,” Reyes said. “My mother’s house was 300 feet from a military base, but [the soldiers] didn’t see anything.”
Reyes and his family were not alone. More than 40,000 have been killed in Mexico since 2006. The toll includes 80 journalists who had written narco news stories. Twenty-eight mayors have been assassinated, with more than 120 other city chiefs threatened. And one lone legislator has been killed.
Reyes was left with only one path for staying alive. “I applied for asylum from the United States,” he said.
He was one of the lucky few, Reyes said. “Many others are seeking asylum in the United States, but only 49 have been accepted.”
He also applied for his wife and his children, aged 13, 6, and 3.
“I never wanted to live in the United States,” Reyes admitted, but doing so was his best chance to stay alive.
“I had to abandon everything,” the former baker said. “I came here without anything, not even food.”
Now Reyes is visiting many cities in the United States to tell his story. Reyes spoke to groups at the Kairos United Church of Christ in Milwaukie on Feb. 5 and at Portland State University on Feb. 6. Paloma Ayala Vela and Patrick Hiller served as hosts in the Portland area. Hiller acted as interpreter for Reyes.
Reyes is calling on border states to pass laws limiting sales of firearms. In Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, he said, “people can buy 10 guns, take them to the border and sell them and come back the next day.”
A nice way to make a living if you don’t mind contributing to helping put a few bloody bodies on the ground.
“We want the United States to help us to change Mexico so we can have peace,” he said. “One voice here is stronger than 10,000 in Mexico.”
No one quite knows how many people have died in the cartel wars. The Mexican army and the cartels have shootouts. The cartel death squads take out anyone who annoys them.
Estimates of the number of cartel-related killings range widely from source to source, depending on the starting date and other factors. A January 2012 estimate from the Mexican government, using a starting date of 2006, set the number of cartel related deaths at 47,505.
Just across the border, a researcher at New Mexico State University calculated that 67,050 people had been killed since 2007.
On Reyes’ turf in Valley of Juárez along the Río Bravo (or Rio Grande in New Mexico and Texas) the war started a little later. “The killings began in 2008,” Reyes recalled. “My brothers and I started denouncing them.”
With others concerned with the human slaughter, they demonstrated in the city of Chihuahua. Then they participated in a hunger strike in Mexico City.
Reyes was beginning to irritate people who had arsenals stocked with guns.
A fearsome triad
Reyes alleged the people with guns might be hit men from the cartel. They might be policemen. They might be soldiers from the federal army.
One group’s bullet can kill you just as quickly as one from another group.
The cartels’ only plan, Reyes said, is to kill and keep killing.
Even so, Reyes believes, “The Mexican military is responsible for most of the deaths.”
According to Reyes, any of the three might be protecting its turf — or its illegal drugs awaiting shipment to the United States.
“The government of Mexico is very corrupt and involved in criminal activities,” Reyes said. “The government detains dealers and takes their money.”
“Cartels fight for territory,” he said. “Cartels want to take over the entire country.”
Support for that charge came from an expert source. In 2010, President Felipe Calderón said that the cartels seek “to replace the government” and “are trying to impose a monopoly by force of arms, and are even trying to impose their own laws.”
Not even U.S. borders are safe. Reyes said traffickers have come into the United States near El Paso, Texas, and fought with U.S. officers.
Mexico has almost as many cartels as baseball teams. Gulf, Sinaloa, La Famila Michoacana, Juárez, Tijuana, Los Zetas, Beltrán-Leyva, Caballeros, Templarios, El Chapo, Los Negros.
Los Zetas know all the tactics of the Mexican army. That cartel was formed by 31 former soldiers.
“U.S. and other suppliers have grown rich smuggling weapons into Mexico,” Reyes said.
And the weapons keep flowing from Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas across to the border, where the cartelistas pay good money for an AK47 (“Guerno de chivo”), M4 Carbine with grenade launcher (“Chanate”), Beta C-Mag double drum magazine (“Huevos de Toro”), or a Colt AR-15 A3 Tactical Carbine.
Help from D.F.?
Reyes sees no substantial help coming from Los Pinos.
Two massive campaigns against the cartels brought few results. In 2000 President Vicente Fox mustered 45,000 troops to attack the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels. Today, both cartels are alive and healthy.
In 2006 Calderón sent 6,500 troops to Michoacán. Later, in 2009 he sent 5,000 army troops to Ciudad Juárez, across the river from El Paso. No notable gains.
Not even presidents feel safe, Reyes implied.
“When Mexican presidents end their terms,” he said, “they leave the country as fast as they can.”
With the centers of power — government, cartels and military — each seeking to expand its territory — Reyes fears that “a new revolution [in Mexico] might be possible.”
Unrest in the fields
Under current conditions, Reyes said, there are 10 million young people who do not go to school or go to work because there are no opportunities. The numbers grow year by year. Even those who work earn about 650 pesos per week — about 46 U.S. dollars.
“You can’t live like that,” he observed.
U.S. farm subsidies have also hurt, he said. “We entered into NAFTA in1994 and, thanks to that, the agricultural productivity [in Mexico] was destroyed.”
Reyes believes a solution to stabilize Mexico must come from education, jobs, a democracy, and opportunities for youth.
To find the path out, one must know the path in. And that path points north.
“The United States has a big problem with drug addictions,” Reyes stated. “It needs a program to control consumption.”
The “War on Drugs” launched by President Richard Nixon in 1972 has proved to be a huge, very expensive, failure.
“I believe most of the problems of trafficking and violence could be reduced by quite bit,” Reyes said, “but the internal problems would remain.”
Reyes said that legalization in the United States might help, but not in Mexico. He said, “Mexico could get rid of traffickers if they wanted to.”