Things That Matter

The US Is Sending Migrants To The Same Mexican Cities It Advises Its Own Citizens To Avoid Due To Unprecedented Violence

Cartel violence and gun battles have killed at least three people this week in the Mexican border city Nuevo Laredo. Now, the United States consulate has issued a security alert, warning employees to take extra precautions as more violence looms. 

While government employees can expect some protections, asylum-seeking migrants who were sent to the region under the Migrant Protections Protocol (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy, have not been extended such kindness. 

Under MPP, migrants who want to apply for asylum in the United States must await their hearings and cases in Mexico. According to Reuters, President Donald Trump has expressed an urge to designate cartels as terrorist organizations due to increasing cruelties. In November, cartels murdered three women and six children with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship.

U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo issues statement on Twitter. 

“SECURITY ALERT: The Consulate has received reports of multiple gunfights throughout the city of Nuevo Laredo. U.S. government personnel are advised to shelter in place,” the tweet read.

The consulate advised employees to take shelter and notify others of their whereabouts. Today, Twitter users in the region reported hearing gunfire and attacks in Nuevo Laredo. Francisco Cabeza de Vaca, the governor of Tamaulipas, the state where Nuevo Laredo is located, said he held the cartel responsible in a series of tweets. 

THERE IS NO TRUCE AGAINST THE VIOLENT – Following the attacks on the State Police of #Tamaulipas by the CDN (Cartel del Norte), Governor @fgcabezadevaca endorses his commitment to safeguarding peace and the rule of law using all the force of the state,” Cabeza de Vaca said according to a tweet translated by the Yucatan Times

Migrants in Nuevo Laredo have become easy targets of the cartel. 

Violence and targeted attacks of migrants have occurred in the region since the summer. According to CBS, as of October, over 51,000 asylum seekers have been sent to Mexico under MPP. In August, NPR reported that around 4,500 had been sent to Nuevo Laredo nicknamed los caminos de carteles. 

The area is essentially a smuggling route for cartels and now it is where vulnerable migrants are dropped off. Asylum-seekers are left to fend for themselves in one of six available shelters in the dangerous city as they await court dates in the U.S. up to four months away. 

“Nuevo Laredo is more dangerous than San Pedro Sula, Honduras,” Cesar Antunes, a migrant dumped in the area told NPR, “which is where I fled from.”

The cartel is able to run without impunity. Violence breaks out and ordinary civilians are the collateral. Sometimes they are targets of kidnapping and extortion plots. Mexico’s National Immigration Institute provides migrants with free bus trips to safer areas like Monterrey and Tapachula. However, these bus trips have become cartel targets too. 

According to NPR, in one incident cartel members hijacked a bus and kidnapped a dozen migrants then drove off. Cesar Antunes was on the bus. 

“In this area right here this is safety for them, but if you just walk out that door it is not safe, that the cartels come by to pick them up to kidnap them,” Marvin Torres, a migrant living at a Nuevo Laredo shelter, told CBS.

Despite numerous incidents of extortion, violence, and kidnapping U.S. Customs and Border Protection says they had no idea migrants are targets of the cartel. 

Acting Commissioner of CBP Mark Morgan told NPR in August that MPP was a “game-changer” because it reduced the number of migrants in CBP custody. When asked about the violence against migrants MPP has caused, Morgan feigned ignorance.

“I haven’t heard anything like that,” Morgan said. “Not with respect to the MPP program. We have received no reports of kidnappings and extortion of migrants. Those are just rumors. You can’t believe everything those people say.”

Perhaps, Morgan is the one spreading conspiracy theories. Liceth Morales and her 6-year-old son were kidnapped for three weeks by the cartel, forcing her family in Texas to pay $8,000 in ransom money to free her. 

“When they released us, we immediately crossed the bridge to the U.S. to ask for asylum,” she says. “But they sent me right back over here.”

Morales decided to just go back home to Choluteca where her small store had been repeatedly robbed. Compared to waiting in Nuevo Laredo for two months, it was the safer alternative. The result of MPP is that many migrants have decided to just go back home. Many migrant advocates feel that the Mexican government has made Nuevo Laredo the home of Central American asylum-seekers because the Mexican government never wanted them there in the first place. 

“[It] is the perfect excuse to get rid of them because the government doesn’t want them here,” Father Julio Lopez, director of the Nazareth Migrant House, told NPR. 

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This Group Of Female Vigilantes Is Taking The Lead In Protecting Their Communities From Cartel Violence

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This Group Of Female Vigilantes Is Taking The Lead In Protecting Their Communities From Cartel Violence

Omar Torres / AFP / Getty Images

In Mexico’s state of Michoacán, cartel violence has spiraled out of control for decades. But in recent years, the problem has become even more pronounced as towns across the state are basically being ran and operated by the ultra-violent Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).

Everyday citizens are now being forced to fend for themselves amid out of control violence thanks to a lack of protection from police and the armed forces. In one town, a group of women have banded together to help defend their community and families from the increasing threat of violence and they’re making headlines for their bravery.

An all female vigilante group is working to protect their small town from cartel violence.

The Michoacan area of Mexico has gotten so lawless, a band of female vigilantes are taking it upon themselves to protect their friends and family.

The state, which is the world’s largest supplier of avocados and limes, has recently been overrun by the violent Jalisco drug cartel that hail from the neighboring state and so the women are fighting back, according to The Associated Press.

The women carry assault rifles and post roadblocks, often while pregnant or carrying small children with them, to combat the growing homicide levels, which have skyrocketed since 2013. The group doesn’t only use assault weapons and roadblocks to defend their town. They also have a homemade tank – a large pickup truck reinforced with steel plate armor.

For many of the women, the mission is personal.

Many of the women vigilantes in the town of El Terrero have lost sons, brothers or fathers in the fighting. Eufresina Blanco Nava told the AP her son Freddy Barrios, a 29-year old lime picker, was kidnapped by presumed Jalisco cartel gunmen in pickup trucks; she has never heard from him since.

Another woman claimed her 14-year-old daughter was kidnapped and hasn’t been seen since, saying “We are going to defend those we have left, the children we have left, with our lives. We women are tired of seeing our children, our families disappear. They take our sons, they take our daughters, our relatives, our husbands.”

And this fight is largely left to the town’s women, as most of its men are being hauled off to work for the cartels (willingly or not).

A battle is raging in Michoacán between rival cartels leading to the surge in violence.

Michoacán has long been dominated by the Nueva Familia Michoacana cartel and the Los Viagras gang, but the CJNG control nearby areas and is determined to increase its area of influence. Naranjo de Chila, a town just across the Grande River from El Terrero, is the birthplace of CJNG leader Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes, Mexico’s most wanted drug lord.

The women vigilantes have been accused by some people of being foot soldiers of the Nueva Familia or Los Viagras but they deny the allegations, although the AP said “they clearly see the Jalisco cartel as their foe.”

The vigilantes also made it clear that they would be very happy if the police and army came to El Terrero and took over the job they are currently doing. But few of them see that as a viable option since they’ve been left to fend for themselves for so long.

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These Women Created A Cookbook That Honors Victims of Mexico’s Violence With Their Favorite Recipes

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These Women Created A Cookbook That Honors Victims of Mexico’s Violence With Their Favorite Recipes

FRANCISCO ROBLES/AFP via Getty Images

Despite a slight change in strategy in combatting the country’s endemic violence, Mexico continues to see a staggering degree of violence plaguing communities. Although the country’s president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, promised sweeping changes that would help pacify the country – violence has continues to spiral out of control, reaching record levels in 2020.

No where is this more evident than in the communities that have lost dozens or even hundreds of loved ones. Many of these communities have formed search brigades to help try and find their loved ones (or their remains) but they’re also getting creative with the ways in which they work to remember those they’ve lost.

A search brigade publishes a recipe book containing their loved ones’ favorite foods.

A group of women who came together to help locate the remains of their loved ones, have worked together on a new project to help remember their loved ones. Together, they have created Recipes to Remember, a book of favourite dishes of some of the missing. Each dish has the name of the person it was made for and the date they disappeared. It was the idea of Zahara Gómez Lucini, a Spanish-Argentine photographer who has documented the group since 2016.

The women are known as the Rasteadoras, and they’ve literally been digging to uncover graves of Mexico’s missing. Now, they’re finding ways to help remember those who have gone missing. The book is a way to strengthen the community and as one of the mothers told The Financial Times, “the book is a tool for building ties.”

“This recipe book is very important because it’s an exercise in collective memory and that’s very necessary,” says Enrique Olvera, the chef and restaurateur behind Pujol in Mexico City and Cosme in New York and a sponsor of the book. “It enables the Rastreadoras to connect with the memory of their loved ones through food and brings us, the readers, closer … It weaves empathy,” he told the Financial Times.

Many of these women came to know each other as they searched for their missing loved ones.

The women – who are mostly housewives in their 40s and 50s – literally scour the nearby grasslands, deserts, and jungles with shovels in hands hoping to make a discovery.

Their “treasures” are among the more than 82,000 people recorded as having disappeared and not been located in Mexico since 2006, when the government declared a war on drug cartels, unleashing terrible, seemingly unstoppable violence. Notwithstanding Covid-19, 2020 may prove to have been the deadliest year on record. As of November there had been 31,871 murders, compared with a record 34,648 in 2019.

Their stories of loss are heartbreaking.

One of the mothers, Jessica Higuera Torres, speaks of her son Jesús Javier López Higuera, who disappeared in 2018, in the present tense. For the book, she prepared a soup with pork rind because “he loves it — when I was cooking, I felt as though he was by my side.”

On the other hand, Esther Preciado no longer cooks chile ribs, her recipe for her daughter’s father, Vladimir Castro Flores, who has been missing since 2013. “That one’s just for the memories now,” she says.

“You get addicted to searching,” she adds. The 120 or so Rastreadoras have found 68 people, but only about a quarter of those are their missing loved ones. She acknowledges many victims may have got into trouble because they sold or used drugs; others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Mexico’s missing person problem continues to plague the country.

Since taking office in 2018, the government of President López Obrador has stepped up efforts to locate missing people and identify bodies. It says the number of reported disappearances for 2020 was trending down. But the government acknowledged in November that in 2019, a record 8,804 people had been reported missing and not been found.

According to official data, Mexico has counted 4,092 clandestine graves and exhumed 6,900 bodies since 2006. Sinaloa is notorious as the home of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, once Mexico’s most powerful drug baron, now locked up in a maximum-security jail in the U.S. The city of Los Mochis, where the Rastreadoras are based, is currently in the grip of Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, known as El Chapo Isidro.

The Rastreadoras acknowledge that they’re on their own, turning to the authorities for help is not an option. As shown in the mass disappearance of 43 Mexican students in 2014, which rocked the country, municipal police have a terrible reputation for being infiltrated by cartels. “They won’t help us — they’re the same ones who are involved,” scoffs Reyna Rodríguez Peñuelas, whose son, Eduardo González Rodríguez, disappeared in 2016.

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