He has been the only person to survive the kidnapping by Los Ardillos [a drug gang]. They handled him over as a bloody mass. He could not move for months. The torture he suffered left him physical and psychological wounds, but he is not intimidated. Communities mobilized as soon as he was sequestered, and it was thanks to their activity that he was released. He is now at the forefront of any action of the Nahua fight.
Montaña Baja, Guerrero state. «Which one you want to start? You will go through each of them, anyway. One of the torturers makes jokes while showing the Nahua Pedro Rodríguez the tools on the table: a crowbar, a machete, some scissors, and an awl, among others.
Adjusted to killing those who kidnap amid the torture, the captors do not bother hiding their faces. For them, the victim will no longer see the light. On the contrary, they will be quartered, and parts of their body, dismembered, will be found in various places, as it has often happened since 2010. The victims always belong to opposing gangs, state and municipal officials, and members of the police forces. Furthermore, with a higher frequency since last year, the victims also are members of the Regional Coordination of Community Authorities-Community Police of the Founding Populations (CRAC-PC-PF for its Spanish acronym) and activists of the Indigenous and Popular Council of Guerrero Emiliano Zapata (Cipog-EZ for its Spanish acronym). These two are the organizations that freed the communities of Montaña Baja from narco-trafficking and expelled the cartels from the territory.
The torture started on the morning of the past February 3, ended at dawn of the following day, when the drug traffickers handed Pedro Ramírez (a fictitious name) over to the ministerial police in a spirit of partnership.
The nightmare starts on the morning of Sunday, February 3, 2019. Pedro and his companion leave their community in Montaña Baja, directed to Chilapa de Álvarez’s municipal capital. As every week, they carry a pair of steers in a stake bed truck to sell them on the market.
While returning home, on the main road crossing the community of Atzacualoya, a white van unexpectedly hinters their passage and forces them to stop. Two individuals get off the vehicle. Their face covered with a ski mask, they pointed their firearms, caliber 9 millimeters, at Pedro and his companion. They take the victims to Quichultenango. It is at approximately 10:20 in the morning.
Pedro points out that the captors recognized him and followed him from the municipal capital. A Náhuatl native speaker, he is also proficient in Spanish, his second language.
“They work clandestinely, let us say that way. They place some spies in the municipality of Chilapa, where I go every eight days to sell the cattle. There were rumors that they were following me. Finally, in Atzacualoya, they caught me, kidnapped me, and took with them».
They separate Pedro from his companion, who had hired him to transport a horse. They Pedro him to a house on the hillside. They accused him of having participated in CRAC-PC-PF and Cipog-EZ, as well as in the confrontation in Rincón de Chautla, where 12 hired killers died trying to enter the indigenous territory.
«They kept me in a house; they pushed me in and hit me. According to them, it was the punishment to have caused the current problem here [expel the drug trafficking from the communities]».
At that moment, it was only one week since the confrontation occurred in the Rincón de Chautla. With armored cars, Los Ardillos tried to seize the community an enter the indigenous territory. However, they could not achieve it as a metal chain, appositely placed there as a safety measure, stopped them from advancing. It was in that place that the confrontation – where 12 hired killers died – took place.
Now the kidnappers wish to take revenge on Pedro. They inform him that he is going to be the first person to pay for these actions. Pedro‘s attempt to say that he had not participated in such a confrontation was useless, as it was remarking that by now, his contribution to the indigenous movement had been marginal.
His companion is tortured as well but in a different location. Maybe for fear, as soon as he is released, he affirms that he did not suffer any form of violence.
“He says that the criminals did not hit him; however, I do not believe that they did not because when we were released, he had a bruise [hematoma] here [he shows the right side of the face].”
He frowns. He is not considered a tata nextili (a respectable grandpa) yet, and his hair is still black. He is 55 years old. Some wrinkles create deep holes in his forehead and cheeks. Besides his resilient personality, his voice breaks when he speaks about the day he spent in his captors’ hands. «Oh! If only you could imagine what I suffered, …they kicked me, hit me…». He has to interrupt his testimony and take a deep breath.
The mobilization of the communities of Montaña Baja
Through the kidnappers’ communication radios, Pedro is aware of what is going on. Amid lack of freedom and torture sessions, he becomes aware of the drug traffickers’ plan and also of the response of the populations to gain his release: they hold eight members of Los Ardillos as hostages, and one of the then leaders of the region, Tranquilino Palatzin Tranquero.
“The portable radio laid on a table. I could listen to everything the drug traffickers were saying. They said: ‘they have already taken Tranquilino [Palatzin Tranquero] and the other eight men who were accompanying him,’ or better, who were checking on the leader.”
The Nahuas communities, aware of the kidnapping, mobilize to find Pedro. CRAC-PC-PF starts the investigations and in a series of quick actions, can arrest the leader of Los Ardillos’ area. The community police stop him when identifying him in one of the pick-up vans of the Municipal Police of Chilapa. Tranquilino is flanked by eight of his “bodyguards” who can do but nothing before the arrival of the community police.
José Lucio Bartolo Sebastián, a member of the Government Indigenous Council (CIG for its Spanish acronym), plays a crucial role in thinking a fast solution to save Pedro. He is also the delegate of the National Indigenous Congress (NIC) and one of the Nahuas leaders with the highest moral authority and organization skills in the region.
In the past May, Lucio, as everyone knows him, was killed after being hijacked and kidnapped by Los Ardillos. In that same month, other leaders of CRAC-PC-PF and Cipog-EZ were murdered: Modesto Verales Sebastián, Bartolo Hilario Morales, and Isaías Xanteco Ahuejote.
The bodies of Lucio and Modesto were found on May 5 inside a red Chevrolet vehicle with no license plate on Eucaria Apreza boulevard, in the municipality of Chilapa. Whereas, Bartolo Hilario’s and Isaías’ remains inside plastic bags in the Chilapa-Tlapa highway close to a place known as Las Antenas.
The corpse of Tranquilino Palatzin was found on the past July 26 near the community of Xochicalco, municipality of Chilapa.
It is thanks to the detention of the nine drug traffickers that Pedro survives. Indeed, the torturers receive orders to end the torture sessions and wait for further instructions. After midnight they were instructed to hand Pedro over to the ministerial police at 2:00 a.m. Monday, February 4.
CRAC-PC-PF and Cipog-EZ admitted that there was no other way to rescue Pedro and his companion but to exchange them for the nine criminals.
He was returned to his community, but then he experienced a period of darkness, sadness, and pain. Pedro needed three months to be able to walk again. Overwhelmed with his thoughts, he fell in depression.
«I recovered after two months and a half…no, three. They pushed me with my wheelchair. I could not walk at all. They [the criminals] left my body all black [full of hematomas], and it is deplorable. I wish nobody to experience the same situation.»
Pedro explains that so far, he is unable to raise his hands above his shoulders.
After midnight, the abductors are told to release him. At dawn, they throw him out of the house where he had been tortured. Once in the van, Pedro sees his companion again. The delinquents agreed, with the ministerial police, the meeting point on the Chilapa-Tlapa highway.
It is not a rescue. The drug traffickers handed Pedro and his companion over to the ministerial police, like friends who honor a deal.
“The criminals, they handed me over to the Ministerial Police. That is weird. Imagine someone kidnaps you, and they themselves hand you over to the police. There, in the middle of the motorway, they transferred us to a ministerial van. It was the same delinquents who sequestered me who handed me over to the ministerial police. What does it mean? They did not release me. They just took me to the meeting point, as if they were giving me a simple lift. They only said to the drug traffickers: ‘You need to transfer them here in the van.'»
He admits that his case is unique. Whomever Los Ardillos kidnap, they kill them after long torture sessions. The victims are never going to be seen again.
«Frankly, anyone they brought with them has never come back. No matter who these people were.»
In Chilapa, both Los Ardillos and Los Rojos have murdered municipal, state, and federal police officers. In 2011 even the commander of the State Ministerial Police, Trinidad Zamora Rojo, was kidnapped, tortured, and dismembered.
A compromise with the unfortunate victims
His companions risked their lives to save him, and they achieved it. When the narcos sequestered some of them, they killed them straight after, without giving their communities the time to organize a rescue plan. Pedro lives with this sorrow. Since then, his conscious led him to get more involved in the movement. Furthermore, his beliefs in defense of his culture and peoples strengthened.
“I wish nobody to experience what I went through. It is very tough and regrettable. I wished the government said that here it ended [the impunity of the cartels] because frankly, no one returns to talk about it. We have lost so many fellows, and unfortunately, they were not so lucky as I was.»
As a Nahua person, his main worry is not that they lose their life during a confrontation or ambush. Pedro cannot stand that they dismember bodies. Los Ardillos and Los Rojos exercise this practice to spread even more terror among indigenous people.
«It is okay if they kill us. I mean, it is not, but the real problem is that drug traffickers quartered their victims. Everyone are human.”
By now, the burden seems to overcome him. However, he shakes his huaraches, wears his hat, breathes, and comes back to his companions. He did not want to take further responsibilities. Nonetheless, he feels he owns this to Lucio and the movement. He takes the responsibilities, organizes everything, and shakes his hands. The minimal movement of his arms does not stop him from cultivating the corn, gripping the hoe, the machete, the mattock, or the chopper, among others, and the rifle; in these times, principally the rifle.
By Zósimo Camacho – text – and José Luis Santillán, video and photos/correspondents
(Translated by: Federica Antoniani)