The Battle of Frontera Comalapa

Luis Hernández Navarro

The ambush that killed Jose Fernando Ruiz Montejo, alias El Poni, and three of his bodyguards in the Joaquin Miguel Gutierrez ejido in Frontera Comalapa, Chiapas, on the border between Guatemala and Mexico, on December 28, 2020, was the beginning of a war between cartels in the state, which escalates every day.

Six months later, in July 2021, the struggle was exacerbated with the murder of Ramon Gilberto Rivera, alias El JR, in Tuxtla Gutierrez. El Junior was the son of Tío Gil, a Sinaloa Cartel operator in the state until his capture in 2016. The crime was the work of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel.

Later, on October 9 and 10, 2022, a pitched battle broke out between Jalisco and Sinaloa, in Jiquipilas. One name began to spread widely: Juan Manuel Valdovinos Mendoza, El Señor de los Caballos, head of the Nueva Generación in the state. In a message to the population, the man also known as El Fraile, warned: “I will do everything in my power to keep out those scum of society known as the Sinaloa cartel.”

The dispute of organized crime over territories, routes and markets moved to Frontera Comalapa, among other regions of the state, which until 2015 could boast of security, tranquility and peace. It is a municipality that connects the Guatemalan border, La Mesilla, with the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. It is the center of commercial and monetary flow in the region. It has about 81,000 inhabitants and 20,000 in the capital. There are large ejidos, such as Paso Hondo and Tierra Blanca. It has long been a passage for undocumented migrants.

Comalapa has three important zones. The irrigation zone, a real battlefield between cartels; the rainfed zone, with ejidos that go from Paso Hondo to the dam, and the Grijalva zone, which starts at the municipal seat, also up to part of the dam.

During Holy Week 2020, fighting began to escalate in the region of San Gregorio Chamic, between the CDP and the CJNG, allied with the Guatemalan criminal group Los Huistas. Chamic belongs to Comalapa, borders La Trinitaria and is a stronghold for Sinaloa. Little by little, the clashes became more frequent: from bimonthly to weekly. The murder of El Junior accelerated them.

In their war against the Pacific Cartel, those of Jalisco and Los Huistas decided to use the population as a shield, subjugating it through the Maiz Foundation (supposedly, Mano Izquierda). They force truck drivers, peasants, neighborhood representatives, and local residents to block roads and highways when they order them to do so. If they do not do so, there is revenge.

According to a refugee from Comalapa: “If you have a taqueria, the people from Maiz come and tell you: ‘you are going to be part of the foundation and we paint [expect] you here. When I tell you that you have to leave, you will leave.’ This is only in the rainfed part. Not in Chamic, because the others are there. They stop the transport and in less than three minutes they paralyze everything.”

In the early morning of May 22, the battle of Frontera Comalapa began. It lasted until Thursday the 25th. Those from Chamic wanted to advance through Chicomuselo, through Motozintla and Paso Hondo. They were unsuccessful. Finally they entered through the Grijalva zone, to take the municipal capital. On the way they savagely cleared the route of peasants subjugated by Maiz. The attack zone was Nueva Independencia. But those from Jalisco arrived earlier, surrounded the ejido and took over the park.

For 48 hours bullets rained down incessantly. The residents locked themselves in their homes and ate what they could. The clash escalated. Drones from both sides flew over houses, dropped bombs and some were shot down by enemy fire. Those from Jalisco brought their monsters into the fray. Bazookas were fired. Finally, those of Comalapa defeated those of Chamic and recovered the community of Lajerío. There was a truce of about four hours. Still those from Pacífico unsuccessfully attempted a counteroffensive. About 48 hours later, when things had calmed down, the Army arrived.

On May 25, the people began to walk along the harvest roads and the bridle paths, where only horses pass. They crossed mountains, rivers and forests. They took hardly anything. They carried backpacks with clothes, food and water. There were no wagons. They could not take private cars because the narco blockades prevented them from passing. The communities were ghost towns.

A banner placed in Mazapa de Madero by Motozintla, bordering Comalapa, warned: “We are coming for you, Güero Pulseras [the head of the Pacific Cartel]” and denounced three officials allegedly linked to the narco: Francisco Javier Orantes, undersecretary of Public Security; Roberto Jair Hernandez, director of the Border Police, and Marco Antonio Burguete, director of the state preventive police.

On June 27, armed and hooded men kidnapped 16 employees of the Secretariat of Public Security. For their liberation, they demanded the release of the singer Nayeli Cyrene Cinco Martínez, kidnapped on June 22, the probable partner of Fredy Ruiz Güé, a lieutenant of Juan Manuel Valdovinos, and the dismissal of three police commanders (those mentioned in the Mazapa narcomanta), accused of protecting those from the Pacific. The hostages were released and arrived 200 meters from the Police Academy to meet with their families.

Tired of paying for a rivalry which they have nothing to do with, outraged by the violence, determined to stop a war that dares not speak its name, next July 14, the three dioceses of Chiapas, the evangelical community and a multitude of social organizations and popular groups will march in San Cristóbal for life, family and community.

Originally published in La Jornada on July 4th, 2023.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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