Two years ago hell broke out in Chiapas; a cab driver’s story

During the last days of September, hundreds of soldiers raided the streets of Frontera Comalapa after two weeks of blockades and confrontations between organized crime groups. Testimonies emphasize that despite their presence, criminal violence continues.

By Jeny Pascacio

This is the second installment of the series Chiapas: Disappearing on Mexico’s Southern Border, produced by Avispa Mídia. In the first installment we presented a contextualization of the conflict that has exploded in recent months in Chiapas. (See our blog this Wednesday for the translation of the first installment.)

In the texts that follow, we will show the face of the statistics that point to hundreds of missing persons, mainly on the Mexican-Guatemalan border. Now we bring you the story of Armando Agustín, a cab driver from Ciudad Cuauhtémoc who disappeared while working. His family is still searching for him.

Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, municipality of Frontera Comalapa, is located on the border of Chiapas, Mexico, with Guatemala, making it a key location for the trafficking of people, drugs, gasoline, weapons, among other illicit goods, and is part of the disputed territory of two organized crime cartels.

Since 2021 the inhabitants do not have the right to a dignified life, “two years ago our hell began,” says Angeles Espinosa with an annoyed voice because at the same time she remembers the words of the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the morning conferences.

Two weeks ago there were no classes at the Cuauhtémoc Elementary School, grocery stores increased the cost of products due to the shortage, including gasoline and LP gas, “and it has been like this for two years, but now it is getting worse”.

The blockades instigated by the cartels continue at points that connect with communication routes in the Coast, Sierra and the Meseta Comiteca Tojolabal, which have become the most dangerous to transit despite the military presence.

“Just like Guatemala, the president sent the military and they do nothing, in front of them the vans pass by with armed people; here there is no security, here people disappear daily,” Angeles reiterated.

Recent blockades are causing food and fuel shortages in the region.

In Ciudad Cuauhtémoc they have also been without electricity for several days and the lights have been failing at night, and it is now common to hear gunshots and see trucks with armed people parading around, even during the day.

One of the groups accused of operating in the area is the “Maíz,”(Mano Izquierda, not to be confused with the peasant organization) linked to the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) to force the inhabitants to carry out activities that favor them in their strategy, including the media, to get the Sinaloa Cartel out of the region.

“They come from the same localities and some from other municipalities,” adds Carla Zamora Lomelí, a researcher with the Socio-environmental Studies and Territorial Management group at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (Ecosur).

But it is only one of the groups that have been reported for possible disappearances of people, mainly young and strong men.

Armando Agustín, the cab driver

Armando Agustín Martínez Díaz disappeared the first of September, 2021. His family members are still searching for him.

Two years ago, on September 1, 2021, Armando Agustín Martínez Díaz, a cab driver by trade, was hired for a trip from Ciudad Cuauhtémoc to Comitán de Domínguez, from which he never returned.

Armando Agustín was one of the first people to disappear, which coincides with the increase in cases of generalized violence related to the territorial dispute between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation in Chiapas.

He is originally from Ciudad Cuauhtémoc, municipality of Frontera Comalapa, and was 36 years old when he disappeared. On that September 1, he was hired by a couple to make a 9:00 a.m. trip to Comitán.

After traveling approximately 80 kilometers, at 10 a.m., Armando contacted his family and said he had arrived safely in Comitán and was on his way back. But it was his last communication.

The streets in silence

According to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), in 2020, Ciudad Cuauhtémoc has a population of 2,788 inhabitants and, according to Humberto Salas, a relative of three missing persons, there are more than 50 cases in the town, but most people prefer not to report them.

The Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba) has reported that, due to the lack of trust in the authorities, the uncertainty and the constant threats they receive through different channels, many families prefer not to denounce.

The violence did what the pandemic did not: it completely imprisoned them. Children live in fear, even to go to school, because on more than one occasion shootings have occurred while they are in class.

The end of the year festivals in honor of the Baby Jesus and the Virgin of Guadalupe have not been held for the last three years. The streets look empty, transportation is intermittent and businesses close at dusk.

Many businesses have gone out of business due to the “derecho de piso” charges, and it has even ceased to be a recurring route for people in transit arriving in Mexico, because they are also disappearing.

At all times, the residents contacted highlighted the absence of security forces. “There is almost no military presence.” On a daily basis, they observe more organized crime vehicles than military vehicles, and violent blockades are constant.

All of the above, despite the fact that 14 minutes away there is a detachment of the Secretary of National Defense (Sedena) in the town of El Jocote; one more of the National Guard in the Paso Hondo-Frontera Comalapa highway stretch.

The townspeople said that they observe more ‘parades’ of monster cars, motorcycles and pick-up trucks with people on board carrying firearms than of military personnel safeguarding the safety of Mexicans.

“It has changed all of our lives, we feel insecure, we hear noises of cars or motorcycles and we quickly think that it is them and that they are going to attack us again,” lamented Raquel Molina. “We are humble and hardworking people, but we are paying for things we did not do.”

*The names of the people who agreed to give testimonies were changed for security reasons.

Original text published October 4th, 2023 in Avispa Midia.
English translation by Schools for Chiapas.

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