The organized crime of producing and trafficking marijuana and opium in Michoacán, Mexico has now reached the homes of the innocent local farmers of this region.
TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Gabriel Pineda, Farmer: “When my father died, I was about eight, but he had already taught me how to work. When I was younger, I could use a machete. That was life, or better said, the peasant’s life. To be honest, we never went to school. No, here we had no school. When the teacher came to this area, we were already 10 or 12 years old. I was almost working. I remember that by that time the first teachers came.”
CONVERSATION [Spanish] Hombre Rifle & Hombre Del Coche: “-Good afternoon
Good afternoon. Could you please tell us in which direction is the little square?
- The little square?
- The main square, I mean.
- At the end of the third street, turn left. You´ll find the square.
- Ah, okay.
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Fredi Cruz, Local Police Officer: “The community used to be very quiet. I knew that people here used to cultivate marijuana. Even my grandpa was one of them. He cultivated it and I had to go and work there to water the plants; but it was like a community. It was as if my cousin and my uncle came together to cultivate a hectare or two hectares and there were some moments in which I was sent off for lunch, “Go for lunch to the house”, they used to tell me. I was going and coming back without any problem. We used to go via the road and it was all quiet. I mean there was… there was... How can I tell you? We were sure that there was not a bad government, that there were not thieves. You didn´t have to keep an eye on other people.
I used to look at the marijuana and see how it was growing and the strong smell it had. It was a very nice smell. I remember how we used to pull them up. In fact, I had to pull up all of it, and to be honest, I know what marijuana is. We used to sell it to the highest bidder. None used would demand you have to sell everything to me only. No, there were many different people coming. They would sell it to the person who offered the best price. They were even buying the leaves.
That was our life. That’s the story of our family, but there were others that used to cultivate it, too. They were going to work. In fact, after we finished there, we used to go also to work with other people for pulling up. We were paid was daily - It was 25 pesos or something like that. It wasn’t worth it. The money was not enough. And to tell the truth, there were many people who used to do it for nothing; many of them did it to survive. We used to get some money from the marijuana because any kid could give you the money - Anyone. Older people didn’t like to work.”
TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Apolinar Santos, Farmer: “At the beginning, yes, there was a winning streak. Wow, 10 kilos, here, you have this money. 20 kilos, here, you have this much. People became active, but also started having to control big amounts. 100 kilos... 500 kilos, tons even... They started to gather groups to cultivate it. And they knew how to cultivate it. They knew how to get a good bunch of kilos. But back then it was different.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Goyo Santos, Businessman: “I stopped studying in 1984 - 83 or 84. At that time, the leaves of marijuana were here, and so the work opportunities were there - I mean, the local economy was about marijuana growing and selling, you know? Then the gabachos used to come and they gave us jobs to pack and transport the cargo somewhere, or we had to look after this place, here or there. At that time the local economy was growing. But if you didn’t like doing those activities, there were no other chances. That was the only opportunity to work over here, the only one. I wanted to know and see other things. That’s why I left for Tijuana in 1989.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Gabriel Pineda, Farmer: “Here, we knew nothing about that. All this here, that is, the community, was clean… clean. Everything. All farmers used to cultivate corn, sesame, flower of Jamaica... That was our living, you know… And suddenly we started doing this. People used to hear about it over there. They used to hear about it. I’m talking about… it came here more or less in 1978. Between 1976 and 1978 this matter of drugs started here - the cultivation and the fields.
When it gets too big, you have to hire people, right? People who need to earn some money for a living. You can’t do the work alone. No. You need help from other people, from your comrades. But you have to pay them, and pay well. Here, laboring is seen as very low. Honestly, I don’t know why everything that farmers cultivate is not interesting to other people; it has no value, nothing… And you had to work hard. But you were free.
We could sell to the person we wanted, and sell it at the best price. Those were much better times. What can I say; there was no vandalism or anything. We used to have a better life… quieter. Lately, all that has started to disappear. The gangs have started to appear already.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Heriberto Paredes, Journalist: “The states of Michoacán and Guerrero are located on the Pacific coast. Those states have different poverty and inequality levels. Particularly in the coast the exclusion rates are astonishing. The economy over there is mainly agricultural, based on corn and coffee cultivation. During the early 1970´s, there was some kind of cotton production, but with the insertion of marijuana and poppy seeds. All the agricultural economy changed due to different and very specific reasons.”
TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Heriberto Paredes, Journalist: “In the first place, unlike coffee and corn, marijuana and poppies don’t need big investments for their infrastructures; and watering and the harvest is easier and you can even harvest several times in a year. The weather in the coastal areas is more suitable - the humidity is higher and it’s practically a perfect business for the poorest and most marginalized families there. In those zones, there is a lack of communication infrastructure and this helps the flourishing and strengthening of the economy based on marijuana and poppy flowers. That’s why the cultivation activities from those coastal areas are being modified. Particularly in the state of Michoacán, the marijuana crop has a very high production, low cost, and it makes a lot of profit - let’s say three times the required investment in a very short period of time. These are direct benefits.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Gabriel Pineda, Farmer: “In my opinion, I used to help many people… many people. Every eight days, men used to come to my house with their families and say: “Look, here you have this week’s stuff”. So, in my case I see it like that because I wasn’t stealing from anyone. I was working and working and then I was just earning whatever was mine. After that I used to distribute it with the workers. Yes, that helped them. It was a big job, and people were getting paid a lot of money.
But, what happened? A lot of those people took their money and wasted it; they threw all of it away. Yes. If those people had been smart and not extravagant, now there could be a lot of powerful people. But they all spent a lot and earned a lot, too.
But their lives didn’t improve, why? Because all of them spent their money on drinking and gambling; and they used to say, “I lost forty, fifty, hundred pesos. Tomorrow I’ll make more money”. Then after another eight or fifteen days again they were saying, “Let’s go for gambling, the cock fights, and all that”. That’s why the situation didn’t improve so much.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Apolinar Santos, Farmer: “Look at the traders and the middlemen… Imagine that the trader already had someone in Tijuana and the guy in Tijuana had another in Sonora or in Sinaloa, a middleman. And the one in Sonora had one in Jalisco and in Lima; the structure was like that. They used to kill each other, why? I imagine why… we all knew it. The shipment was sent off, but there was no money. They sold it and the guy collecting the money was killed. This type of crime was rooted among them. Here also the farmer suffered because he was not getting paid.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Gabriel Pineda, Farmer: “Yes, they were coming: the police, the government. They were coming with helicopters and all that. We were scared, really scared of getting caught. We were afraid of the government and at the same time of our coworkers. There are always envious people around… always. If you do a nice job, then they mark you. It’s like that. I had that experience and I lost. That was many years ago.”
TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Heriberto Paredes, Journalist: “By the 80s, marijuana and poppy production was a growing demand - that’s why we needed to sell more and produce more. That’s why a bigger organisation was also needed; greater logistical operations; and many more workers. There was also the need to buy into institutions of the state and get their complicity. This large demand for marijuana and poppy, and also opium gum - particularly in the USA market – contributed to the reinforcement of the organisations that specialised on the production and distribution of these two plants and these two products internationally.
It was at this time when Mexican mafia such as the Jalisco cartel, Tijuana cartel, Juarez cartel and Sinaloa cartel were created and became stronger. It’s like a small growth that gets bigger and stronger year by year. It was also in the state of Tamaulipas where the distribution routes are going to make it possible for national and international organisations to consolidate themselves.
Also at the time in the 1980s, the so-called War on Drugs, headed by the Reagan administration in the US was apparently followed and supported by Mexico, by pandering to the media. That’s the moment in which some Mexican army operations took place - they began to burn the marijuana and poppy fields. They were not burning a remarkable amount of fields or crops; they just carried out these operations in order to calm down public opinion and the press and to show the world that this policy against drugs was being implemented here in Mexico in line with the policy of the Americans.
Some people were arrested, although none of the leaders of these new national and international organisations were, only really the farmers. The most vulnerable people in the entire drug production chain are at the end - the producers - because they don’t have any adequate protection.
The anti-drug policy of the day affected them directly and their names were at the top of all the detentions lists. On the other hand, the drug barons - the relatively new leaders of the main cartels remained free and under the protection of the authorities.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Gabriel Pineda, Farmer: “It’s logical because you spend many years and you can’t be with your family. At least in the state prisons you can see your family and be with them. When they created the federal prisons… that was hard. No, in a state prison you have everything. If you have some money, you can live like a king. You can have visits. You can have everything. There’s wine, everything you want you can find it there, in a state prison.
But not so long ago, when the federal prisons opened, there you could feel how hard it is. Yes, it’s very hard, very hard. And, to be honest, I don’t wish something like that on anyone, not even on my worst enemy. I don’t wish for anybody to be sent to that place because it’s so hard... really hard. The transfers, the receptions, the place where you are received, the place you arrive at, from one state to another. No way, I don’t even want to remember that. It’s very hard.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Goyo Santos, Businessman: “In Tijuana in 2009 - in 2008 or 2009 - the cartel of the Arellanos Félix was very strong. My son was growing up, he was six or seven years old and I said to him, “look Leo, let’s go there to Michoacán”. And I said, “look here, Leo” - When we were coming here, you could see on the streets, 35 or 40 dead bodies, beheaded. This used to be every day in Tijuana. That’s the reason why we decided to come back here to have a quiet life.”
TIME CODE: 20:00_25:00
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Fredi Cruz, Local Police Officer: “They used to sell marijuana before. I’m telling you this because I used to live on the coast and my business was there and I was seeing that. They used to grow drugs: marijuana, cocaine, crystal. They were selling everything. And after that they told me, “We want you to grow marijuana, cocaine and crystal.” Everything. They asked me how much I wanted to earn, but I didn’t accept. I told them that that was not my job.
I’m a farmer and my job is to cultivate papayas and sell them in Guadalajara. That was actually what I was doing. They didn’t do anything to me, but the bad feelings and the bad thoughts were strong. 22 days later I was told to pay a 70 thousand pesos fee. I asked them why? And they answered that the boss said you have to pay this much. And he gave you a discount of 20 thousand. You only have to pay 70 thousand. They gave me three days to pay it. It was a Friday, Saturday, and then on Sunday I was supposed to pay it. I gathered my family and I told them what was going on. Then I said you know what? I’m not going to give them anything. I’m not going to maintain these morons. I’d better leave.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Goyo Santos, Businessman: “In 2012, my whole family was displaced from this community. All of us. I remember that day perfectly. It was on September 23rd, at 10 in the morning. My dad arrived with traces of being beaten. About a half hour earlier, big cars came and dropped him off. Then he came to us at around 10. I looked at him and asked him what happened?
Two guys called Pingo and Alacrán beat me and told me that we have to leave or they will come back to kill us. They gave us two hours to leave. I helped him out of his truck and we loaded the camper and left. I told my wife to take only the most important things: our papers, and whatever she could take with her, and we left.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Heriberto Paredes, Journalist: “One of the best examples that we can find in all this drugs and drugs trafficking geopolitics in Mexico, without a doubt, is the Milenio Cartel - also known as the Valencia’s Cartel. This is a discrete organisation that grew stronger after this process in the 80s and in the first half of the 90s here in Michoacán. This cartel was one of the first that created a safe and fluid distribution network, not only of marijuana and poppy, but also of cocaine coming in from Colombia. Obviously, the market where they distributed their product is not Mexico, but the USA. Milenio, with its discretion and economic networks grew with such power that it attracted the attention of other cartels located across the country.
This era continued on until 2005 when an important part of the population in Michoacán became fed up, tired and exhausted of the many acts of violence. Thus cropped up a new cartel called ‘the Michoacana Family’. A war among the cartels ensued and the people wondered if the Michoacana Family could be the one capable of ending the supremacy of the ‘Cartel of the Zetas’. Ultimately, the Michoacana Family took control of all the distribution networks and all of the businesses that the Zetas had developed out of their violent acts. But instead of protecting the people of Michoacán, the violence levels were intensfied. They broke their pact with the society and the promises they had made to them. And then they decided to increase violence to increase their control.
A new organisation, the Caballeros Templarios (or Knights Templar), emerged from a division of the Michoacana Family and increased its business, the violence and control over the population in Michoacán. They also practiced extortion, kidnappings, and car theft. They took over the black market. They interfered in the population’s affairs - something that was not common before with other traditional or classic trafficking organisations. They also adopted a religious ideology into their culture and their founder, Nazario Moreno, was considered a cult figure.
The final part of their rise as a hegemonic organization, let’s say, that went further than extortion and violence was their interference in the internal politics and economy.”
TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Heriberto Paredes, Journalist: “They started to control de lemon’s production, the balers, the avocado production; they controlled the legal firms and functions and hence were able to do their money laundering unimpeded, which fed the illegal economy.
Now, with great power, they were able to successfully meddle in the different levels of politics: they co-opted the mayor, senators, deputies, the governor of Michoacán and some other governors. Control over the politic, plus control over the formal and informal economy explains how it was possible for the Knights Templar to be able to become one of the most powerful cartels in ths history of the organised crime in the country.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Fredi Cruz, Local Police Officer: “It sounds like thunder, doesn’t it? Ha ha ha!
-They started stealing. If you were in a job or in a papaya plantation and everything was going all right, they had an eye on you. They were checking who was earning more money and they were coming to ask you for fees. They used to say, “the boss sent you this”. And you were forced to pay it. There are some people here who did. They paid 20 thousand, 30 thousand, even 50 or 60 thousand pesos. They kept their mouths shut. They remained silent because if you said something, you could be killed. Everyone who refused to pay died. It was a fear that spread very strongly across the whole community. They were dominating everything. We were unconnected and not capable of fighting back. In fact, we were part of the people who were against the cartels, and that’s why we decided to leave our community. But that is one part. They also were kidnapping people and demanding ransoms. I don’t know how much; 100 thousand or 200 thousand. They were thieves, too. If you decided to sell a cow, they somehow knew how much you were getting paid and they would demand, “you are going to give this much”. The same was happening if you were selling a goat.
Even the construction workers had to pay. They were even demanding taxes for your own house and land. You had to pay a fee to them for your land. And, not to go into more details, they wanted to divide up our lands. And they did that; they were dividing up our lands. If they liked this place, they just claimed it for themselves. We had to suffer all of that. If someone left their house for the day, they would come and stay in the house. All of the organised crime centered there. They washed and slept in crime. People just looke on, they didn’t say anything. And them… the government, the bad government we had in our municipality.
-Perrota, perrota, perrota.
After that, they went after my sister with a gun and I was told that they also used to load it like this. They used to do that. She was with her handicapped daughter and they were telling her: “You’re next. Before New Year we are going to finish you.” She was scared, although she was not afraid of anything, but this time she was. At three in the morning she ran away from home. She took her car, packed the most important things and left. And some of the neighbors, who were actually part of this organised crime ring; they used to laugh at her. All of them. We knew everything because other people used to tell us in secret.
There was no trust. You could report something, and the criminal would be arrested. But then after two or three days, he was released. How did that happen? Because they were working for the organised crime syndicate. They were involved, the government and also the mobsters; they were the same thing people. They used to say, “You know what? That bastard pointed the finger at you”. Then unexpectedly, these bloody mobsters would come after you. They could make you leave, or kill you. Or they could leave you on the street to die. They would do something to you. There was no trust.
-Now it has to remain opened. You take it out with the second, and you put in the first.
-Then with the third, you put in the second, because if it’s erased, everything falls down.
- And then it closes?
-Yes. It doesn’t go in again. The other doesn’t go in.
-But, I never came. Just the opposite: we were organising ourselves with our partners when they kicked us out. We were gathering in different places. What for? To find a way to get back to our community, because people were very scared. They were frightened. Why? Because some times when the mobsters were coming, they could just kill someone in the garden, or the town. Someone would be killed and it was like nothing had happened. Then we got to a point in which we decided to come and join the community. When the first local police officers showed up, to be honest I started breathing again. I started praying for my people, after almost four years of suffering with my family living in another place.”
TIME CODE: 35:00_40:00
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Fredi Cruz, Local Police Officer: “Then came the day in which we were going back to our community. I had no gun, I didn’t have a gun. I had only my chest and my courage. There was a partner who asked me about my gun and I said I didn’t have one. He had two and gave me one of them. So I was going in with this 45-millimeter. We were coming into the town and the local people were very scared because they thought we were mobsters. Then we gathered them together and introduced ourselves. We told them the reason why we were there and that we were not going to hurt anybody. We were there after the criminals that had bullet-proof jackets, and were killing people and taking their money. We were looking for them. Then the people knew who we were. They knew us.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Heriberto Paredes, Journalist: “Many people who were unable to pay the fees and cope with a life of uncertainty and violence decided to leave their homes, and that’s why they are considered internally displaced people. It’s forced displacement. They had to leave their residence to preserve their lives because they were unable to pay the fees or they wanted to stop paying the fees imposed on them by the Knights’ Templar. Anyone who didn’t pay the fees was tortured, disappeared or killed.
Those that abandoned their homes and left the area stayed connected to those who remained in Michoacán. So, at the beginning of 2003, the people who stayed in Michoacán decided to organise themselves. Stockbreeders, businessmen, small business owners, lemon producers, avocado producers and some farmers decided to assemble and fight against the Knights Templar.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Goyo Santos, Businessman: “In January, I was constantly checking my email for any news. I remember that on February 28, I read a communication that said: ‘Self defense groups have entered the community of Ostula’. I was working in another town. I came home, I don’t remember what day, and I saw the news and told my wife, “I’m leaving tomorrow” - Just like that. “I’m leaving already” (tears).
Why? Because… I had suffered for something unfair - the way we had been treated. I was sleeping in a sofa here, it’s still over there and it has only four or five strings. It’s impossible to sleep. Without a gun, just with a machete beside me, and nothing else.”
TIME CODE: 40:00_45:00
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Goyo Santos, Businessman: “I told myself: “If someone comes I’m going to swing it up and see if I can poke him with the point, right?”
We were here, my brother, too, he came with me. And everything turned out very well. After bout fifteen days I talked to them and said: “It’s about time. We have to bring our father over here.” And we did that. I think that my purpose was to bring everyone here. My family came here, too - after a month I told them to come. The thing is that you need them. If you have good relations with your family you get used to them and then you need them, you miss them, you know.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Gabriel Pineda, Farmer: “Almost twenty years I spent in prison. I’ve been here two years since I was released. You know what? When I got here, things were really quiet. Since that time, there have been no more kidnappings, no more killings, no more robbery, nothing. Everything is quiet. I was told that some months ago, some years ago, life was very hard here. There were people here, neighbors who were hassled… more than a hundred - a lot of people. And those kids that had the courage, the spirit to leave this place, and then I don’t know how, but came back with other comrades.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Fredi Cruz, Local Police Officer: “Sometimes I’ve been close to saying, “you know what, that’s enough! I give up!” But, no. I have my position here. I’m here and here I’m going to stay. It’s an example that I’m setting for my kids, my family and the other kids that are growing up here. I’m defending my community. I love my land and I’m going to fight for it while I’m alive. The way I’m going to do it is to provide security and safety to the whole community so that our people can live in peace and not be afraid.
Right now we are here in our community. Our people, our community are supporting us. In this situation, as I told the community, I’m not going to turn away. I will always be present. Even if that’s the last thing I do in my life. If I have to die fighting, this is where I’m going to die. But I’m not going to run anymore. I suffered when I was away for four years. I’m staying here in my town. I’m staying on my piece of land and with my community. I’m 100 percent committed that I’m not going to turn away from my community. Even if there is a bunch of people saying that we are going to die. We know that some day we are all going to die, but we don’t know when or how.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Goyo Santos, Businessman: “Right now... When I came here and after I thanked God I said: “Well, what am I going to do now?” “What can I do there?”
They said it was tamarind season. Then he said “No, look, I have a friend over there in Colima, go and talk to him. Tell him that I sent you.”
But a lady had said earlier that she had about two tons of tamarind she was not able to sell. So I decided to go and talk to that friend and told him, “Listen, there is a lady with two tons of tamarind, what do we do with it?”
“Go to Colima and say that I sent you”, he said.
And then that person told me to talk to another, and that person sent me to talk to the buyer. And I remember that he said, “Listen, how much do you have?” I looked at him and said “I have a big car...” Then I said I have….. How many hectares did i say… like, 80 hectares of tamarind”, I said.
He answered: “It’s good”, and he asked me: “How much money do you want for it?” I said about five thousand pesos.
Now that I remember that it makes me laugh because with five thousand pesos you could buy like two tons… He said: “Only that much? Then why are you saying a lot?” So I said, “the thing is that now I need this much money for the gasoline”. Then I just played along with him.
Then he said, “I’m coming with you”.
I said, “Let’s go there. This is ours and nobody else can enter because we have a movement and I’m the only one who can come in. No one from outside can do it. It was impossible for them. It was closed. Only buyers, no one else.”
That year I was a buyer and with the money I earned I was able to bring my wife out with me and fix up the house a bit. I also brought my van back. So, I received some benefit.”
TIME CODE: 45:00_49:45
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Fredi Cruz, Local Police Officer: “In fact, I used to go to the beach a lot and watch the surfers ride the waves. Then I told to myself that I could do that, too. When I was a child I used to do it. I used to surf. I started with a buggy and later I surfed on a surfboard. The truth is that it was hard to catch a wave, but I did it. When I did it the first time I could feel the emotion and the adrenaline. And I liked it a lot. I used to practice a lot, honestly, a lot. In fact, I still do. I mean, when I like something I continue doing it. Every time I get the chance, I go to the sea and surf. All the stress that I have goes away, because this is a paradise, and as the tourists say: “You guys live in a paradise, don’t you see it?”
Now I understand what they mean, because we have the resources to move forward now. The only thing we need is to make the effort. To be honest, we never give up. We always have the walkie-talkie on, because that’s our best weapon. Why? Because I can communicate to my comrades that there are this many bad guys and they should come fast. This is our best weapon. Without it we are nothing. Yes, you can use a weapon to defend yourself, but this is vital, this is the best thing - communication.”
SOUNDBITE [Spanish] Gabriel Pineda, Farmer: “It was me who was wrong. Why? Because I was making fun of the government. I used to say: “I walk in front of them and they can’t do anything to me.” Then I was not feeling that I was doing anything wrong… No, no, no. I knew what I was doing, and I was making fun of them. They kept telling me, “Don’t get yourself into drugs because you are going to pay for it. Maybe you will get caught.” But you don’t understand that. You don’t pay attention to that. Then when you are arrested, then you feel sorry. But it’s not like that because I knew what I was doing, I knew it. I knew it was something wrong. Or in the government or with the government - on the other side - I used to say that I was doing well and I was providing many people with jobs.
But now, instead of drugs, we are living another life. And none can say this is a lie. No. We are living our lives like this now. And I think we are very blessed, and at peace, without any problem.”