It should as no surprise to anyone that drug cartels have made many parts of Mexico violent, dangerous places that lead residents to seek refuge elsewhere. What might come as a surprise, though—well, at least it did to me—is just how bad it is.
When a police chief, Erika Gandara of Guadalupe, can be abducted and remain missing for a month and a half … it’s, well, bad. When she’s dragged out her home in …
… the morning early hours and her house is set ablaze behind her, it’s … you know, beyond bad.
[Gandara] was a former radio dispatcher for the police department in the town of 9,000, which is just across the U.S. border, one mile from Fabens, Texas. The previous police chief was murdered and decapitated; his head was found in an ice chest. Gandara, 28, a single woman with no children, was the only applicant for the job and its salary of $580 per month.
One policeman was murdered during Gandara’s first week on the job. By the time she became chief, the entire force of eight patrolmen had either been killed or fled. She was the sole law enforcement representative in a Juarez valley town that was part of the war between competing drug cartels for access routes into the U.S.
So for $580 a month, this woman was willing to take on what she knew must be pretty much a death sentence? That’s either really brave, really idealistic, or really stupid.
I guess her relatives felt much the same way, since they tried without success to talk Gandara out of her decision, particularly since Gandara didn’t hold back, “posing with her rifle for newspaper interviews”.
This may have been, in a way, almost like waving a red flag in front of drug cartels, the metaphorical bull. Unbelievable stories of life in Ciudad Juarez and the Tiffany Hartley debacle remind many of us how lucky we are to not have to worry so directly about this, but Erika Gandara certainly knew the score.
And she was, of course, well aware of her status as sole law and order in Guadalupe.
Many of the houses in Guadalupe have been burned down by the cartels, for whom drug-running is no longer enough. They want complete political control over towns and territories along access routes to U.S. highways and the lucrative drug market. So while the violence in big cities like Juarez has gotten a lot of media attention, little has been written about small towns like Guadalupe, where the situation is even worse.
Until now, of course … so perhaps the one great positive to this horrible, ugly mess is a world awareness of how dire the situation in small towns like Guadalupe is.
Guadalupe is not the only town in Mexico without a police force. In a small town near Monterrey, the entire force quit after two officers were found beheaded. And this week, the police chief of Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Laredo, Texas, was gunned down along with two of his bodyguards.
Many of those who live in the towns without police protection have fled to other areas, or across the border to the U.S. But many are unable to leave.
“My house is here,” one construction worker told me. “I have nowhere to go and no money to leave. So at night when there is shooting we all just stay inside. Of course we are scared.”
This is just so unspeakably sad to me, and the worst part is that I can’t seem to fathom any sort of solution … any ideas for the Mexican government, oh wise Zelda Lily readers?