The residents of Papanoa today live between fear, misery and migration due to the activities of criminal gangs who fight for the streets and squares in the drugs trade, gangs such as the Templarios and Beltran Leyva.
People are afraid to give statements, give their names, or even appear in a photograph. Their eyes turn glassy and well up with tears, whether they are 15 or 70 years old, and it’s natural, they live amongst gunmen and criminal scouts in Papanoa, Guerrero, now known as death’s alleyway.
Located in the Costa Grande in the state of Guerrero, in the same way that other towns in the region and throughout Mexico, it is suffering from the scramble for the plazas in order to control the drugs trade, the control of weapons and territory and to extend the power of the gangs.
Just two weeks ago he himself was held at gunpoint by one of the groups that “look after” the streets of his town: “I was driving in my truck and suddenly I saw that they were coming towards me with their weapons drawn, they told me to get out of the car, they put a gun to my head and put me on my knees and loaded the gun, but it was only to scare me, I told them if they wanted to kill me, they should kill me, and they let me go.”
The stories range from the paranoia that runs through the town to the abuses of the Mexican army like in the case of Rosy, “I went to work, and while I was out soldiers went in to my house, and my neighbour called me, but by the time I got back from the police station they had already gone, they had broken down my back door and the bolt to the front door. I made a statement and had it signed by the police, I know that they won’t do anything but at least this way it’s on record just in case something happens, I mean, who is going to pay for the damage?”
Problems as well like migration, health issues, unemployment, stress, desertion and a lack of tourism, are coupled with the daily violence, the fear of the citizens, the calling cards left by cartel assassins, the army night patrol and the criminal scouts that watch every street.
Between 2011 and 2013, more than 300 houses have been abandoned and shut up, business premises, sandwich shops, health clinics, sawmills, hotels, restaurants, even allotments and mango processing firms have had to close.
Roberto misses the prodigious and wealthy Papanoa of the 1970s, when people lived off the timber trade, coconut fetched a good price, the mangoes were sold and people enjoyed themselves in the community dances, he misses being able to go out freely to the street.
“Look, man, what I have to do now is I grab my things and I cross myself and think my God, what is your holy will? They could kill me at home or they could kill me on my way out, so we have to go,” he says.
Just a month ago, the last lot owner who allowed the villagers to go into their allotments to collect mangoes, was killed, and his loss has hurt the village “Now they won’t let us in, we can’t go on to the allotments, because they won’t allow it.”
Dreams of tourism
It was not only timber and agriculture that sustained Papanoa, also the beaches of the area were an attraction and good for fishing, which formed another pillar of the local economy.
Due to the violence, the state government, under the control of Angel Aguirre Rivero has tried to improve national and international tourism, but in reality, cartel violence has been bad for their image since 2006, the year that Felipe Calderon Hinojosa decided to declare war on drug trafficking.
Since the arrival of Aguirre Rivero, along with his office of Tourism, Javier Aluni Montes has tried to promote tourism, one of the projects to “raise up” the new Riviera Dorada in which the beaches of Papanoa such as Cayaquitos, Ojo de Agua, Puerto Vicente Guerrero and la Piedra Tlalcoyunque are to be found, but the locals do not have the same perspective, nor the same hope.
Yes, it is true, what the secretary of Tourism, Aluni Montes says of peace in the coastal area of Papanoa, dozens of houses are quiet and abandoned, hotels and hostels have been up for sale for months and tourism has left the area years ago.
Joel says that now he doesn’t know what to do, he has no customers to offer his services to, people don’t want to come to the area for fear of being murdered. He is a mechanic but has lost a lot of clients due to the increase in violence in the area.
– How do you carry on, how do you stay sane in such a situation?
-Well, it’s as simple as this, I trust in God and let him decide.
-But how do you manage to give strength to your husband, and not die of fear?I take care of the kids, I do what I have to do, and I trust in God
Mothers and children don’t escape from the violence either, they suffer panic attacks, stress, chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension have increased, and some have their nerves destroyed to the point that they can no longer get out of bed.
Rosy also prefers to trust God “the advantage that I believe I have is that I am a catholic and I pray a lot every day. What else do we have left?”
Don Roberto, What would you say to the journalists, to the press?
That they speak of Papanoa there, on the outside, that they speak the truth about what we are going through, because we can’t go on any longer here in Papanoa.
We can’t even report the crimes. Who do you report to if the very government is involved in the drug trafficking? They are the same bosses today and it goes back to Fox (ex president Vicente Fox Quezada), He would coddle the drug traffickers. But come to Papanoa and see what it is that we live, to speak the truth.
His eyes cloud over and tears roll down his wrinkled cheeks.
Disappearance of activists
El Gordo tells of how it was as a result of the violence and abuses perpetrated by the Mexican army that his friend Victor Ayala Tapia restarted the activities of the Frente Libre Hermenegildo Galeana (FLHG) and for the same reason, after denouncing the army for their military intrusion, he was forcefully “disappeared” on the 14th of September 2010 in Papanoa, in his own house, at the hands of armed men.
“We can’t trust when it is the same government that knows that it was them, the assassins, that took Victor away, Victor denounced the army and the government did nothing, they are the same people,” he said.
Almost three years after the disappearance of Ayala Tapia, the authorities still haven’t investigated and there is still no trace of the activist, leaving his wife and children living in pain.
“Look, unless this comes to an end, then next time you come and visit I will be telling you, look, now I’m part of such and such a gang, because the way things are going, the options are running out”, says Rosy ironically.
The scouts watch us from the corner until I get on to the bus.
(Translated by Thomas Wright)