It is always surprising that paradise contains hell itself. May the beauty of a mighty river, of mountains painted green, actually hide the war. Because, what else do you call the tension that structures life between shootings and explosions? The aesthetic incoherence is confusing, but it barely appears in the conversations of Nuevo Caracol. Partly because beauty is just a disguise. From there, from the hills that surround the community, the drones have come these months. And the bombs have fallen from the drones. The shots came from the same place, a rain of lead visible in dozens of houses in the town.
Araceli Santana’s patio reveals the consequences of the attacks. The woman, 40 years old, lives in front of the community court, part of the municipality of Heliodoro Castillo, in the State of Guerrero. One morning in August, around 9:30, she was preparing the tortilla dough in her kitchen, when an artifact fell from the sky, hit one of the zinc sheets that cover the patio, and exploded. “One becomes deaf and they also go far,” says Santana. “A boy got a piece of another bomb that fell on the field and cut his belly,” she adds.
The woman says that the bombing started in May and continued until August 28, when the last ones fell. There have been dozens these months, many times accompanied by the bullets fired from the hill. “What we do is hide in a material room,” explains the woman. It refers to a house with a cement roof and not a sheet metal roof, predominant in Nuevo Caracol. Bombs, homemade devices filled with nails, gunpowder and nuts, are no match for them.
It is low-cost war, with low-cost bombs, for low-cost houses, which cover second-class neighbors. Priest Filiberto Velázquez, who has come to bring supplies to the community, ironically remembers the military checkpoint that operates nearby, next to the El Caracol hydroelectric dam. “The Army defends the dam and the hitmen defend the people,” he says. And it’s true. In the community, vans with armed boys come and go, waiting for the next drone, the next shooting. The entrances to the town are covered. The residents covered the one coming from the dam with tons of earth. Cobblestones, a cart and a herd of donkeys close the bridge over the river.
Part of the ancient geography of Amapola, of the opium economy, Nuevo Caracol and other towns on the banks of the Balsas River, border between the Central and Tierra Caliente regions of Guerrero, serve these days as a trench for criminal groups, which try to advance and resist Those who attack with bombs and bullets from the hills, neighbors say, are part of the criminal group La Familia Michoacana, with strong roots in Tierra Caliente. Those who defend themselves, they add, are part of Los Tlacos, which takes the name of the municipal seat of Heliodoro Castillo, Tlacotepec.
The border is reborn in Guerrero, a land of mountains and isolated, poor towns, victim of the growing power of the mafias. Model of pacification three years ago, the scars now succumb to the power of fire. The murders increase. Trenches appear everywhere. Criminals attack bars in Acapulco and leave human remains in buckets on the street. Shot bodies lie abandoned in ditches on the Costa Chica. The Central region is experiencing tension imposed by old groups, capable of blocking the state capital, as happened in July with Los Ardillos.
Perhaps peace never existed, it may not have appeared among the rulers’ objectives. But it happened. Nobody doubted that extortions were bleeding into the Tierra Caliente region, that the Montaña Baja could catch fire at any moment, always in Chilapa and its communities, that the mafias of the Costa Grande were in charge, a lot. But, for some reason, murders were going down. And peace was drawn like a rainbow, powerful, surprising. But also temporary.
As of August this year, the State has recorded 965 murder victims. The projection is that at the end of the year there will be more than 1,650, a figure that the region has not seen since 2019. These are numbers far from those reached in the worst years of Enrique Peña Nieto’s Government (2012-2018), when there were some in which They recorded more than 2,500 victims. But the massacres of the last year and a half in Tierra Caliente and the demonstrations of mafia power in the Central area, Chilpancingo and Acapulco, make us fear the worst, just like the drone bombs in Nuevo Caracol.
View of the Nuevo Caracol community in Acatlán del Río, Guerrero. Monica Gonzalez Islands
Juan runs a business in the lower part of town. His real name does not appear here because, he explains, he has relatives in Apaxtla, a border point. Juan says that La Familia Michoacana controls Apaxtla and already in recent months, the group has even stopped passenger vans that travel to the community, forcing them to turn around. As part of the criminal economy that prevails in the area, the mere fact of living in a town makes you, in the eyes of the opponent, part of the group they fight with.
In Juan’s business, the last bombs fell on August 8. “They also fired shots at us,” says the man. “I was cooking and a bullet hit us here,” he explains, pointing to the kitchen window. The bullet destroyed the glass that protects the stove. “It started at noon, first a bomb and then the shootings.” Asked about the exact place they came from, he and other neighbors point to the hill that is right in front. It’s weird, it seems far away. “The Michoacans,” as they are called here, shoot from afar. The drone thing seems simple, but shooting at the town from the hill is an exercise that involves overcoming distances of hundreds of meters.
If imagining the attackers’ aiming rituals requires some imagination, locating their intentions seems like a matter of witchcraft. What do the attackers want? Why do they crush Nuevo Caracol? Poppy crops practically disappeared from the slopes of Heliodoro Castillo, what is the interest? Juan answers, without hesitation, that it is because of mining. “There are no mines here in Caracol,” he explains, “but it is the gateway to Heliodoro Castillo, Tlacotepec, and it is full there.”
The mine map of Guerrero, an important gold producer for years, surrounds Heliodoro Castillo to the north, but does not seem to touch the south of the Balsas River. Or, at least, the mining companies, which demand greater investment in the State, have not yet laid their hands on the region. Juan points out this last possibility and says that the groups assume that at some point the industry will develop in the area.
Four houses away from Juan’s business is Raúl Valladares’. For four months, Valladares, 41, has carried an R-15 rifle and a radio communicator. A slaughterer by profession, a hustler by vocation, he explains that Los Tlacos told him to come to Nuevo Caracol when the bombs began to fall in the town. By then, he was living in Cuernavaca. The prospect of an exciting life brought him back to the community. His house is practically empty. In one room there is a motorcycle, in the other, his bed. At the entrance, on a chair, his rifle and a backpack with a magazine and dozens of projectiles.
Interior of a house in the Nuevo Caracol town in the municipality of General Heliodoro Castillo, Guerrero. Mónica González Islas
“I barely escaped from the Michoacans,” he explains. “I think it was in June. I was on the yellow bridge and I saw them coming, I warned the hitmen here that they were coming down,” she says, referring to the hitmen from Los Tlacos. “They grabbed me right on the bridge and I ran away from them,” he says. Asked about the reason for this strange war, Valladares ignores the mines. “No,” he says, “it happens that Michoacans already want to get rid of people from here. But now there are some of our people there, on the edge,” he adds, while he points to the line that the hill draws on the horizon. “Right now they are taking care of it,” he says.
Guerrero is difficult to understand. Dozens of armed groups manage portions of territory for purposes that are as changing as they are opaque. Some clothe their ways with political ideals. In fact, some even take these ideals with some seriousness, such as the State’s first community police force, the CRAC, born in the 1990s, and its wayward daughter, the UPOEG. Both appeared to serve the people and their safety.
Over the years, however, it is difficult to know whether the entire CRAC and the entire UPOEG and all the variants born or not under their wings respond to those old ideals. The push of criminal groups whose only policy is economic drain and savage capitalism distorts everything, to the point that part of the community police forces use the disguise of their old ideals to put various rackets into practice.
The Tlacos, for example, present themselves as a protection group in Nuevo Caracol. That may be so, but far from there they wage battles whose ends are unclear. Thus, for example, the July chaos in Chilpancingo responded precisely to the battle between Los Tlacos and Los Ardillos, the leading group on the criminal map of the center of the State, with strong political relations. This summer, the mayor of the capital appeared in a video with the band’s leader, Celso Ortega.
Tlacos and Ardillos supposedly fight for control of the area’s transportation routes, but also for the region’s poultry industry. That is, for the chickens. Some say that criminals want to collect their extortions even from tomato producers. Be that as it may, the fable of David and Goliath, so easy to draw in Nuevo Caracol, makes no sense elsewhere, and presents Los Tlacos as any other criminal actor, ruthless as anyone. The same happens with La Familia Michoacana, with Los Rusos de Acapulco, or before with the famous Guerreros Unidos or Los Rojos.
Priest Filiberto Velázquez Florencio during his visit to Nuevo Caracol in the municipality of General Heliodoro Castillo, Guerrero.Mónica González Islas
Between disguises and impudence – because there are groups that do not even bother to hide their intentions – there remain, as always, the victims. Mr. Juan, Araceli Santana, or the dozens of boys and girls who wander around the town, not really knowing what to do. Today, with the arrival of Father Filiberto Velázquez, everyone seems, at least, entertained. The children approach those outside to see what is happening.
Velázquez has brought school supplies for children who cannot go to school. First because of the pandemic and now because of the bombs, the teachers do not arrive. Velázquez, in tune with the combative priests who try to denounce violence in Mexico, records a video with the girls demanding a solution from the Government. The children need to go to class. “It is not possible for these children to know how to differentiate between R-15, 50 or goat horn calibers and not know how to hold a pen,” she criticizes in the community church.
It’s literal. The boys and girls keep spent bullets, shell casings, and shrapnel from bombs. They talk about the sicas, the hitmen, like others talk about Leo Messi or Aitana Bonmatí. Accustomed to the context of war, they say that it is better not to touch the shrapnel because “the Michoacans” spray it with rat poison. Who knows. The children play drones with bombs, throwing stones at the roof of the market, which was holed precisely by one of the bombs. The older ones scold them. There is a beehive nearby and it is dangerous. The very concept of danger can be ridiculous in this piece of saw.
A child shows the mark of a bullet on the school wall after the drone attacks and clashes that have left one person dead in the Nuevo Caracol community. Mónica González Islas
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