The return of the Mexican hell; the missing who are alive

The cartel offered them a job with deceit, but enslaved them and forcibly retained them. Today they are part of the armies of organized crime. They take care of drug crops or train as hit men. They are alive, but they are missing. Luis is one of the survivors and recounts his days in hell.

Image: El Pais
Image: El Pais

When I ran away I went very far because I knew that wherever they saw me they would kill me. I thought that if I went directly to the Government they would hand me over to the cartel, and after a while it came to light in the news that someone was in the same situation as me and was encouraged to speak and then I said that my goal in escaping Up there was to try to give peace and tranquility to those people who lost track of their loved ones. Many of them are the people that I saw calcine and that no one of their relatives realized how they died and how they disappeared unless I speak, then I will risk talking my story and bringing some peace to their families and not remain hopeful that you will find them. It was that I contacted the Jalisco Prosecutor's Office and told them that I was also deprived of my freedom in the Sierra de Navajas by the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) and that I could identify 17 disappeared people that I saw with my own eyes die in the hands of our captors.

Luis (the names are false for security reasons) is a survivor of camps where the cartel forced young people to train as hit men. At the beginning of 2017, he worked in a rehabilitation center. He did not adjust his salary and he wanted to get away from the environment of addictions. He searched for a new job using social networks. In April of that year, he joined the Facebook page GDL Job Bank and Jobs Guadalajara. By inbox, they connected him for a job offer: 4,000 pesos a week as a security guard. He contacted the woman who sent him the message and she asked him to contact Mario, the company's current supervisor. A week later they added him to a WhatsApp group along with 15 other people interested in the work. They were asked to attend a training session in the municipality of Tala and they would give them 4,000 pesos in advance.

Luis was excited. He never thought that when they reached their first day of work, they would be put in safe houses and then climbed to camps in the Sierra de Ahuisculco, but not to kill them, but to train them and force them to work for the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel.

The families of some of them reported them as missing, without knowing they were alive in the hands of organized crime. The Jalisco Prosecutor's Office carried out operations in July 2017 and found training camps. In one of them, they detained 15 men, of whom three had a report of disappearance and were able to prove that they were being held against their freedom. The three of them were released and their testimony was recorded in the research folder 1611/2017, as was Luis's. Thanks to his story and anonymous testimonies we now know that the Ahuisculco mountain range took dozens of men from the valleys of the Tequila region, the Metropolitan Area of Guadalajara, other states and even Central American migrants, and that slavery and forced labor has been a modus operandi of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel to ensure the operation of their businesses. Among the recruits of those who have registration were day laborers, unemployed, car washes, masons, loaders of the Market of Supplies, deportees, former police officers, ex-military men, young people recently left from rehabilitation centers of addictions. Even one of the survivors recounts in his ministerial statement that he was walking at night in the center of Guadalajara, felt a blow to the head, lost consciousness and when he woke up he was in a safe house.

When the Prosecutor's Office carried out the operation, Luis was no longer there. He had escaped but later decided to declare despite the risk that may involve doing so.

When I was contacted for work, I asked if everything was legal. "Look, if it was illegal, we did not send you to training so you can carry a gun. Do not worry, everything will be legal. " I said "Hey, but is everything going to be fine? I have my mom sick and I need communication with her. " That's when Mario told me that I fell for his mother, that he would come recommended by him. I grabbed a taxi to the Periférico. At 10 minutes a car arrived. They asked me if my name was Luis. I told them yes. I got on and went for another boy, we got into a very messy place. A güero with a beard came out, little "chinito" hair, chubby, with green eyes, now I know his name is Ignacio. Two women came out to say goodbye, they did not leave the entrance until we left. I saw the driver nervous, smoking one cigarette after another. I talked to him and he told me that he had barely worked for a week, but that he had not been paid for previous trips. It was the first of May. They left us on the road and there a pick-up arrived with three other boys who came from the State of Mexico. One had a false eye, another was thin with a false leg and the third was chubby with a lock of hair that came out of his forehead. The driver was a dirty fat guy who ordered us to get into the box. On the way, we learned that the five of us had been on WhatsApp the previous day and we had been contacted through work exchanges to which we registered on Facebook for the work of escort or security guard for 4,000 a week. It was very attractive for my needs.

They moved us to another car. We turned towards Tala, we got into a breach and arrived at an abandoned farm, with barbed wire, wooden sticks, there was a man with a goat's horn telling us to keep going inside. I noticed that there was no furniture, only people on the floor, 38 piled on the floor. It was when I realized that I had got into a problem because that was not normal. Upon entering the room they ordered us to remain silent and sit down, telling us that we could not even go to the bathroom unless we asked permission. We were pure humble and poor people, there were people who had the face of miscreants and others who had the face that they had nothing to lose in life. I realized that I had crossed the line of not returning and that maybe something bad would happen, in fact, there was a strange smell, you could see the look of sadness and misery in people.

A well-connected sierra

Tala, Ahuisculco, Las Navajas, Cuisillos, are villages that are less than an hour from Guadalajara, just behind the forest of La Primavera. It is reached by the free highway to Puerto Vallarta. Passing the forest you have to turn left to enter the valley of the Ameca River, where there are fertile lands full of reed beds and old haciendas. After Tala, the next delegation is Ahuisculco, an ancient indigenous community that still protects the forest and protects its eyes from water. The village is in the foothills of the mountain range of the same name, a volcanic formation that is actually the continuation of the La Primavera forest. On the other side of the hills is the town of Las Navajas, where, according to those of Ahuisculco, "crime did penetrate; people accepted things that ended up compromising them. "

The town of Las Navajas is named for a large amount of obsidian that exists in its soils and that for centuries it sold as knives with the indigenous communities of the region. Crossing the town there is a gap that goes into the hill. On this road is one of the security houses mentioned by the survivors and which was secured by the Jalisco Prosecutor's Office. Above is the place known as La Reserva, the ranch that the inhabitants of the Sierra say belongs to a certain Don Pedro, a name they knew Rafael Caro Quintero there. They say that Don Pedro arrived at the end of the seventies, planted marijuana, fattened cattle, controlled the region. Even after the operations of the Jalisco Prosecutor's Office, in July 2017, the road was still guarded by truck drivers and young motorcyclists: hawks. This is the gap that all the survivors mention in their testimonies as the route to climb the mountain.

This mountain range, with no name on maps, is strategic because of its connectivity. On the one hand, it has roads leading to the road to Colima and Manzanillo, and on the other to the Sierra Madre Occidental that leads to the Pacific coast and Puerto Vallarta. Through the port of Manzanillo enter chemical precursors for synthetic drugs that move along the road to Colima and before arriving in Guadalajara take the South Circuit or Macrolibramiento, which leaves them a few meters from Las Navajas, where they enter the mountains which serves as a hiding place for camps, pits, and narco-laboratories. By Cuisillos they can go to the road that takes them to the north of the country or to Mascota and Puerto Vallarta.

On July 29, 2017, the Jalisco Prosecutor's Office informed that between June 6 and 13, they received six complaints regarding the disappearance of persons. All of them warned in their homes that they were moving to the municipality of Tala because they had obtained work as pollsters, escorts or municipal police.

Testimony of mothers

Laura denounced the disappearance of her son Ignacio on July 22, 2017. They asked her if she noticed anything strange the last few days she saw him.

"I was desperate because I did not have a job," Laura said. He was 22 years old, weighed more than 100 kilos, light brown hair, green eyes, forearm tattoo. The high school truncates. He told his mother that he had found a job as a private security guard where he would be paid 4,000 pesos a week. He would go to Tala for two weeks for training. On May 1, 2017, they passed him home in a popular neighborhood south of Zapopan.

Ignacio came out with a black canvas backpack with gray and a crossed ribbon where he kept three changes of clothes: boxers, socks, a wooden brush, plastic sandals, white tennis shoes for sports. Cell phone did not have and they were not allowed to wear it either. His mother and sister went out to say goodbye. He climbed into a light brown car in which two other men were going: the driver and another boy who had just been picked up; It was Luis. They did not have contact with him again. Two months later, the sister saw on the news that they had found enslaved people in Tala. It was then that they reported the disappearance of Ignacio.

Ernesto was also reported missing. Robust, 1.78 tall, 96 kilos, round face, light brown eyes, no tattoos, scars from bites on the chest and left arm, wearing black denim trousers, light blue polo shirt. At 26 years old he was urged to find work. At the beginning of 2017, he had a son and did not have a fixed income. He was desperate when he found an offer on the Internet. On April 30 they contacted him. The next day he left early, shortly before seven in the morning; they were going to pick him up at Periférico and Mariano Otero to go to a training at Tala. He told his mother and his wife that he would communicate in a few days. Karla, his wife, dialed him at ten in the morning to find out how everything was going. He told him that they had not yet arrived, but that as soon as he could he would send him the telephone number of the place where the training would be. He did not send it. They had promised that every week he could return to see the family. Never came back. Rosa, his mother, reported it on May 8, 2017.

Tempering is doing things with intelligence

The time that Luis was trapped in the first security house, in May of 2017, began to observe those who watched them; he discovered that some had been captured like him, but had already been able to go on vacation.

I know because I saw who was in charge, who had left and returned, that there were hierarchies. It did not matter that they took you trust, the test of fire to be theirs was to return to work with them.

From that house, they began to take us out in piles to fill trucks. From the road through Cuisillos, we were taken to Navajas, to another large farm, with an iron gate like cattle, one meter high, not finished. There was a gentleman with a hat like a peasant who shouted at us: "Let's see your children ... online ... Let's go, hot! Does anyone know why the fuck is here? "I could not say anything, they could kill me. He grabbed the horn and shot up all of us: "I'm going to give everyone a vacation to the yard, if they come back here there's going to be a job and if not, they'll fuck their mother! Who wants to go now? "Nobody said anything.

One brought me in check, I shouted: "go brown, temper!" Temper means to be agile, to act, to do things with intelligence. We went to the top, we arrived at the camp that gave me the appearance of the forest fields in the United States, is a private property that a lady rented to the one in the hat.

Stand out and survive

The abuse and threats began in the safe houses. In addition to Luis, there were three other survivors rescued by the Prosecutor's Office. In their ministerial statements, they told how they went in search of work and the "enganchadores" took them to safe houses. In one of these houses, there were about 50 men lying on the ground, beaten, threatened that if they escaped they would kill them.

All day we exercised and said that those who obeyed went on vacation or rest. We were classified by new, pre-owned and old. The new ones hit us all the time, there were always armed men watching. A week later they returned me and four companions in a van; other armed left me in a safe house where I could bathe, there we had already realized that it was another roll, I heard voices that said we would work for their cartel. It was when I got scared. Those who cared for used drugs and I have never used: work, I have family, children. On the 23rd they returned me to the mountain, to a new camp, they put us to build it with sticks, nylon, branches, to carry water, food, they beat me all over my body, they told me "vales verga, órale assholes, dogs". We could not sleep until 12 o'clock at night, whoever did it put it to hit him with gotcha or killed him. Those who cared shot two at them because they went to Oxxo without permission. The others were asked to lower the bodies to a ravine where a stream passes, they put me to cut firewood, branches, burned them there ... Already between talks I knew that they were all taken with deception, we were 20 just like me.

They left us in a camp at an hour from the town of Cuisillos (...) where they made us sleep outdoors, as they told us that we had to ask for permission to urinate and if not, they beat us (...) for what I remember One day we were loading things, we went to a stream and El Mummy told the Czech, who had tattoos of the dates of birth of his daughter and on the neck the name of his children, "híncate this is so you do not disobey my orders. " He shot and fell dead. Then he shot another (...) They went down to the stream, took off their clothes and followed instructions. They put them in a bed of wood with leaves and wood, set the fire, we waited until they were completely burned.

We walked 30 minutes, we arrived at a camp built with tree sticks and black plastic, lined with tree branches and trash. I noticed that three were outside with weapons. We got inside and there were more people lying down, being about 20, so we went to the camp, as we could go to bed and fell asleep, but as soon as dawn they lifted us all and they formed us and they began to tell us that we were going to train to work as sicarios of the Jalisco Cartel Nueva Generación and that if we resisted they would kill us. They put us to training forcing us to exercise and they had gotcha weapons to train with us; They used their kind of bullets to shoot us.

On July 24, 2017, I remember it was Monday, they picked us up and they made us carry plastic and groceries (...) The attendant received a call to put on shackles because black and white trucks came to comb the hill. Three started firing, all I could do was run towards the bottom of the hill to cover myself with the bullets. Police surrounded us, shouted "chest ground, hands up", and it was the moment that they arrested us all.

The three young people who speak include in their story the operation of the Jalisco Prosecutor's Office through which they were able to free themselves. Days later, on July 29, 2017, the former Jalisco prosecutor, Eduardo Almaguer, reported that they had rescued a young man and thanks to that they were able to locate the camps. The Prosecutor's Office estimated that between 50 and 60 people were guarding 40 recruits. Of the latter, their fate was not known.

It was not the only training and extermination camp found in Jalisco. In 2016 another cell of the same cartel operating in Tlaquepaque and in Puerto Vallarta was detected, which distributed flyers offering work for a non-existent security company, Segmex. The recruits were forced to sell drugs or become hit men.

In October of 2017, the Office of the Prosecutor rescued four other people involved in deception in the municipality of Puerto Vallarta. They were employed as sales managers or escorts; the CJNG took them to train them in the Sierra de Talpa (150 kilometers from Tala, going to the west) and disappeared them. At that time, the then prosecutor Almaguer said it was the same criminal cell that operated in Tala, with members from Veracruz, Michoacán, the State of Mexico and Jalisco.

They take those who have pants

The disappearance of young people in Tala began long before the Public Prosecutor's Office discovered these camps. There is a registry of missing persons since 2012. One of them is Javier Cisneros Torres. His family has had the courage to be the only one who made his search public. Javier lived with his mother, in the municipal capital of Tala. His sister, Alma, remembers the day of his capture:

At that time my brother lived with my mom, my dad had already died. My brother was already lying down watching TV. He left because his neighbors came looking for him. He went to his house and they took him from there. We managed to see his sweater, his glasses, his keys, the blood that ran from the entrance. My brother liked to defend people, everyone in the neighborhood, he was not a bad person, we know from the kind of life he led, we are a humble family. He worked at Tala's sugar mill, it lasted time he did not have work because the jobs in Tala are temporary. He went to paint white trees. They said that the Taliban took him, a criminal group of the CJNG that is in Navajas.

We know of at least 60 families with missing persons in Tala. My sister and I have written name by name. I have a friend from high school who contacted me one day, he said: "my brother was taken away, we do not know what happened, my brother used marijuana". I said "ok, consume or do not consume do not have to do it (take it away), he is missing and we have to find him. If we do not look for them, nobody will find them. " I asked him for a picture of his brother in case they find his body in a common grave because that way you'll never know if he's alive or dead. Here there are many missing and nobody says anything.

They take the young people who have enough pants to do things because they do not take away (...) only those whom I see who would dare to do ugly things, that if they say "we kill you or work for us", I I think they answer "work". I'll be honest, my brother I do not think he says "kill me", I think everyone wants to live, but that's what I tell my mom, it would hurt to know that he's doing that kind of thing. I'm afraid he's working for them.

In the region, it is an open secret what happens. The CJNG controls Tala and the surroundings, so those who speak have to do so under anonymity. Like Eleazar, who prefers not to speak in public and do it at home to tell how they took many of the young people from his town:

In 2013, we began to know about young people who disappeared in the region. They were children of peasants, strong, bragged, people who know the countryside and therefore know how to use weapons. They were braggarts and presumptuous, who liked (the music of) El Komander, the "peleoneros", who went to parties or consumed drugs. We knew of many cases that they were going to a party and we did not know about them again. Apparently, some are alive, they call their families, but they can not look for them or say anything because they are forced to work for them. They were not boys who wanted to get into the narco, no, although they liked the music that or all the narcoculture that has permeated a lot, because in Tala there is a lot of work for the sugar mills, that is why they had to be forced. I think they could take them to marijuana and poppy fields in the same region or to other places in the country because the cell that is here is strong, do not think so. From here they cater to boys for other regions. I think that all the young people have a certain profile and that is why they are now putting job advertisements to deceive young people from other places.

On August 31, 2014, a Mass for the disappeared was held in Tala. The families took the photo and the name of their loved one; all were named. A lot of people arrived, in a single blackboard they pasted 35 photos, mostly men. Following the mass, the priest received threats and had to leave Tala.

Even though many families prefer not to report, in this municipality there are 56 disappearance reports according to the National Data Registry of Missing or Missing Persons. Between 2006 and 2012 there were two complaints. In 2013 there were 14 and in 2014, 17. For the inhabitants, something happened in those years: the Jalisco New Generation Cartel took force and controlled this region. I needed labor.

With the arrest of the Valencia brothers and Ignacio Coronel, the Millennium Cartel (which trafficked drugs in alliance with the Sinaloa Cartel) was divided into two cells. One of them later became the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, which the US Treasury Department described in October 2018 as the most powerful drug trafficking organization in Mexico and one of the five most dangerous in the world. This group has a presence in at least half of the national territory and traffics cocaine and methamphetamines in America, Asia, and Europe.

They break the soul

The disappearance of young people and then forcing them to work for the cartel is not improvised. An inhabitant of Tala who knows the dynamics in depth says that mistreating them, torturing them, and then forcing them to kill and incinerate their companions is a strategy to break their souls, their inner harmony so that they can become one more of the cartel. That from victim to victimizers. In his story, Luis describes that in order to survive, one must win the trust of the captors. In the end, the cartel decides to kill those who do not fold or are not useful for their purposes.

I saw the opportunity to approach the manager, I was determined not to be mistreated or die up there if something was going to happen. I was willing to survive. I began to talk to them and to stand out, to earn their trust. There were gunmen everywhere. Any person trying to survive will stand out so as not to be attacked. I started to be afraid and to doubt the way I started trying to survive in hell. I thought I had gotten more deeply into these people for not running the risk of being killed, but at the same time, I threw a rope around their neck because they saw me with confidence and they would see me as a traitor if I did not return.

That time the worst happened to me in all my life: about two o'clock, the voice of El Sapo (the head of the square) came in. "Come on, sons of your fucking mother, who wants to leave? I'm going to give you 3,000 and your house and fuck your mother. " At that (some) they begin to raise their hands, warning them that they were safe. There were three from the state of Mexico, the chubby one who arrived with me and now I know his name is Ignacio, the two "guachos" from Durango, a 17-year-old from Guadalajara, a former policeman from Zapopan, others who do not know his name and El Catracho who had already returned on vacation. In fact, El Mojo asked him if he was sure to raise his hand and he said yes, he wanted to go see his son to Honduras. El Sapo said, "that's it, you're going to get there faster". I recognize everyone, there were 14 in total, they were placed in a hut in front of the dormitories and told not to move. The others were seated in another hut. A gray Cheyenne arrived with plates from the United States and two subjects with squad-type pistols. One was El Greñas (boy of 20 or 21, child's face, the right hand of El Sapo) who shouted at those who wanted to go: "To see bastards, get to fight every one against everyone", and they began to do it, that he was going to die. The first to fall was called La Jaina (short, 1.70, big nose, big face, "guero", hair everywhere, destitute of Guadalajara) fell knocked on his knees. He was shot. Then El Guachito, tall, nose; when he saw that they were going to throw him, he shouted "nooo!" raising his hands in defense. They gave him two bullets. After Nopal, Toño, Chucho and El 18 opened fire against everyone, including a former police officer. The last one was a 17-year-old boy with his hands tucked between his legs, head down, rocking. They came to see him because he was alive. El Pitayo told him: "These fucking guys told you to say you wanted to go." Out of wave, he answered "aha", and the boy asked crying "is that I want to see my little sister and my mom". They gave him a bullet. Among the dead were Ignacio, who arrived with me the first day, and Ernesto. The "taquero" was also shot in the back, and then 15 dead. To those who, out of fear, did not say they wanted to leave, they made us carry the bodies. We lasted an hour and a half because there were some very heavy, we had to drag them to throw them in the ears of corn.

To throw them to "elotes" is to incinerate them: in a wooded area, they took advantage of the ditches that make in the earth the currents of water that go down between pines and oaks during the rainy season. There, on the reddish earth, they threw wood, then the bodies, stacked and split, to set them on fire with gasoline until there were only burned bones and metal objects like buckles and pants buttons. Witnesses who say they have seen other pits like these, but have not been able to report their location, report that they have smelled chemicals that could be used to accelerate the combustion of bodies.

The escape

According to the story that Luis gave to the Jalisco Prosecutor's Office, El Sapo called by radio a few days later and said: "Now yes, children of his mother whore, who is going to go on vacation?". Luis thought "the moment I was waiting finally arrived, it took me an eternity to degrade myself and be with these people. I'm going to be free. " El Cholo ordered that they make two rows and gave them 2,000 pesos each. Night fell and they were lowered from the hill in groups of 15.

They were going to leave us in Tala but it was very hot, there was a lot of police. We walked to a gas station where the Army was. For highlighting me many did not want to take off. The Army neither stopped us nor asked anything. There's a hotel out there. I entered and I registered. I got to bathe to be able to give confidence to a taxi driver and escape. When I arrived at the hotel all the rooms were filled, we paid with the money they gave us, I bathed, I cleaned my clothes with a wet rag, they all touched me (the door) holding a beer in the bar. I had planned to leave when they fell asleep, but they began to consume glass that the attendant sold them (...) While they were partying, I grabbed my suitcase, I left, I took a taxi, I contacted a relative who lives in another country and I counted everything that happened, that I could not return, that where they saw me they were going to kill me, they had to help me to escape.

Later it came out in the news that someone who was like me was encouraged to speak and (I) said, my goal to get out of there was to try to bring peace and tranquility to those people who have not found their loved ones, they are that I saw burn and nobody of their relatives realized how they died and how they disappeared. Then I will risk telling my story.

Those who returned from that hell received protection measures for declaring against members of the most powerful cartel in Mexico. Even so, they had to flee; They changed their identity and no more was heard about them. The Government of Jalisco never reported who the incinerated people whose remains were located in the camps had been. Neither did it carry out more operations to search for more clandestine graves in the area or tried to free more young people in these forced recruitment camps.

Today the cartels are still making cams and controlling the territory. Both in the south of Jalisco and on the border with Michoacán there are families of missing persons who have anonymously reported signs of having their relatives taken to forced labor in drug laboratories or poppy fields. The inhabitants of the area of Tala know that the hell to which relatives and acquaintances have been condemned is not below, but up there, at the top of the hills; They know it in silence.

From 2006 to date, the Mexican government has received complaints about the disappearance of more than 40,000 people.

This report is part of the project Adóndevanlosdesaparecidos / Quintoelab. An initial version was published as a podcast in Así como suena, under the title Los desaparecidos de Jalisco. You can listen to it here: https://asicomosuena.mx/?#/shows/1/play/361