Amidst the Cartel War in Chiapas, Rolando, Ejidal Commissioner, Disappeared for Defending His Town

by Jeny Pascacio

This is the third installment of the series Chiapas: Disappearing on Mexico’s Southern Border, produced by Avispa Mídia. 

The dispute between criminal groups has changed the daily life of towns and communities in the state of Chiapas, particularly in the towns of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas, bordering Guatemala, such as Frontera Comalapa, Chicomuselo, Motozintla, Siltepec, Amatenango de la Frontera, Mazapa de Madero, La Grandeza and El Porvenir.

In the first installment of this series, we presented a contextualization of the conflict that started in at least 2018 and has exploded in recent months.

In the texts that follow, we aim to portray the face of the statistics that show hundreds of deaths and missing persons. In the second installment, we brought the story of Armando Agustín, a cab driver from Ciudad Cuauhtémoc who disappeared while working. His family is still searching for him.

Now, we present the story of Rolando Rodríguez Morales, the Ejidal Commissioner of Sinaloa, municipality of Frontera Comalapa, who disappeared after protecting his community.

In July 2022, violence intensified in the Sinaloa ejido, municipality of Frontera Comalapa. On the 15th, the children were at school when gunshots were heard. 

The teachers of the Emiliano Zapata Salazar elementary school tried to calm the students who were crying in fear. While armed men entered the houses to create disturbances, they damaged the crops and businesses of many.   

Seeing the situation, the ejidal commissioner, Rolando Rodríguez Morales, decided to ask for help from the military. In less than an hour, he returned accompanied by the uniformed officers who managed to dissipate the confrontation that had arisen due to an alleged betrayal between local groups belonging to the Sinaloa cartel, which the ejido recognizes as “los mayos” and “los chapos” (referring to the leaders). 

The Sinaloa ejido is located 23 kilometers from San Gregorio Chamic, 61 kilometers from the municipal capital of Frontera Comalapa and 53 kilometers from the municipality of Chicomuselo. In other words, it is another strategic point on the routes contested by criminal groups in the Sierra Mariscal de Chiapas.

The pebble in the shoe 

Rolando Rodríguez Morales, the Ejidal Commissioner of Sinaloa, municipality of Frontera Comalapa

But on the day of the confrontation between cartels (July 2022), Rodriguez became “the pebble in the shoe, because the armed men saw him arrive with the military” and the threats began, said Luis Moguel, a local resident, by telephone. 

In addition to being a Commissioner, he also rented internet and on September 20 of the same year, he had to pay for the service, so at 11 am he left for Comitán de Domínguez, 71 kilometers away, despite his wife’s request not to do so.

In order not to waste a lot of gasoline he decided to use public transportation, but he informed his family when he arrived and left Comitán. Around 5:00 pm he said he was on the bus in San Gregorio Chamic and, in the last message, he mentioned that there were suspicious people in the area. 

After 10 minutes they tried to contact him and he did not respond. Some people from the same ejido who were on board reported that the vehicle advanced a few meters from the terminal and armed men shouted on several occasions: “Rolando, get off!”

The Commissioner, then 45 years old, called for help, but fear paralyzed him and no one could do anything. They forced him down, beat him, knocked him unconscious and took him away. But the violence against the family did not stop there, and organized crime began to watch them.

Stalking and defenselessness 

The family of Rolando Rodríguez Morales filed a complaint with the State Attorney General’s Office (FGE) of Chiapas until 24 hours after the fact, because the authorities sent them from Frontera Comalapa to Comitán and vice versa. Afterwards, they merely issued a search date and never investigated. 

The people who took the Commissioner did not make contact to negotiate either, on the contrary, the family wrote to the cell phone that was taken with him, and asked for him to be released, also promising to go far away. The messages were received, but there was never an answer.

Four days after Rodriguez’s disappearance, members of the Union of Ejidatarios demanded his release and his safe return with a protest-blockade on the road that connects the ejido with San Gregorio Chamic, in the same municipality. 

In the peaceful demonstration, they requested the intervention of the national armed forces to restore peace to the Sierra region. They were not heard either. That day the military did not provide security for the demonstrators despite the family’s own request.

Instead of listening to the requests of the population, the Secretary of National Defense (Sedena) changed all the personnel in the area, as well as those who responded to the Commissioner’s call, on September 15, 2022.

All this occurred despite the fact that the family managed to speak with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (Amlo). To contact Amlo, they had to travel to the state of Puebla, in the center of the country, where he had public activities. Amidst pushing and shoving, they entered the room where he was and told him about the violence and disappearances in the ejido. Amlo then promised to provide support which never arrived.  

The wife and children of Rolando Rodríguez Morales were left in a state of defenselessness and decided to leave the ejido and, on the way, one of the members received an alert that they were trying to geolocate his cell phone. 

For more than three months, the death threats continued through calls and messages from dialed numbers in Jalisco, Michoacán and Sinaloa. They demanded that they remove the complaint from the Attorney General’s Office. “We had to leave and we suffered because we felt that we had abandoned him, when all we wanted was to look for him even under the rocks,” she added.

But these events also revealed the forced disappearances of the municipal agent Roberto Gómez Hernández and two of his children, Josefa Gómez Cruz and Aric Adonay Gómez Cruz.

On the night of April 27, 2023, an armed group violently entered the home of the municipal agent who, seven months earlier, had led the search for Rolando Rodríguez Morales. These disappearances occurred very close to military bases that, according to federal discourse, are installed in order to protect the population.

The empty streets of Ejido Sinaloa

Pyrotechnics prohibited 

Since July 15, fireworks have been banned in the ejido Sinaloa, because children get upset when they hear the thunderous sounds related to the detonation of explosives and firearms. 

At 5 p.m. in the afternoon, people lock themselves in their homes, and nobody goes out to play basketball, eat tacos or sit in the central park. “At a festival for mothers, armed men arrived at the school and the activities had to be suspended because the children were very afraid,” recalled María Elena, a resident of Sinaloa.

“If we humble people don’t mess with them, they shouldn’t mess with us because they take away our property, our peace of mind, our home, and that is very unfair,” insisted the woman, who has three young children, all of whom are afraid of dying from a stray or intentional bullet. 

The ejido’s economy is driven by cattle ranching and agriculture, but since the criminal groups entered the region, the farmers are constantly harassed and threatened to carry out other activities. Such as what happened in the town of Quespala, where a group of people was summoned to prevent the army from entering in May 2023, when the region suffered a week of widespread violence and forced disappearances.

Julián Gamez, a farmer, explained, “it is not that the people do not want the military to enter, they are afraid, they are threatened into blockading the way, and women and children have to go, because if they do not, we don’t get permission to sell our corn and that is what we live on.”

In the Sinaloa ejido, what is happening in Ciudad Cuauhtémoc is repeated, as reported in the second installment of this series, the residents report several cases of disappearances, but the families are afraid to report them and have no protection from any authorities.

*The names of the persons who agreed to testify have been changed for security reasons.

Original article published by Avispa Midia on October 11th, 2023.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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