María Zapata Escamilla woke to the sound of shattering glass. Armed men in military fatigues had burst into her home: they dragged her disabled husband outside, along with her 14-year-old son, still in his pajamas. Then they drove away into the night.
Two weeks later, her husband’s brutalized body turned up, along with nine others. But after more than a year, her son remains missing.
“I was left navigating alone,” she said through tears. “If they told me, ‘Give up your life in exchange for your son,’ I would give it.”
Zapata’s ordeal has become terrifyingly common in Fresnillo, a city in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas that is currently being torn apart by a battle between the Sinaloa and Jalisco cartels. More than 70 people went missing in the mining city between January and March – nearly one person a day, and a fivefold increase compared with the same period in 2020.
Over four days in February, 10 men vanished without a trace.
“Every day there are kidnappings, every day there are shootouts, every day there are deaths,” said Zapata. “It’s terror.”
Families of the Fresnillo victims say they have not received ransom demands – or if they have, they have turned out to be scams.
The epidemic in Fresnillo mirrors a nationwide trend: after dipping in 2022, disappearances across Mexico surged by almost 30% in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period last year, government data show.
The trend is yet another testament to the failure of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s security strategy: while murders have decreased marginally since he took office, the surge in disappearances makes clear that violence persists.
Zacatecas offers a devastating case study. Once relatively calm, the strategic state, which borders eight others, has become fiercely contested by criminal groups. Murders have rocketed; bodies turn up regularly; cartels block roads and set trucks on fire.
The state carries significant political weight for López Obrador, popularly known as Amlo. Zacatecas is governed by the Monreal family, a powerful dynasty at the heart of the president’s Morena party. Ricardo Monreal, a federal senator, is a presidential hopeful. His brother David is the state governor, while his other brother Saúl is the mayor of Fresnillo.
The violence has made Zacatecas a key focus for the federal government. In 2021, the defense ministry announced that more than 400 national guard troops would be sent to the state. This February, 600 more soldiers were deployed.
But the state remains a hellscape.
“Zacatecas is overwhelmed,” said Leticia Castañeda Cruz, whose nephew was snatched from his car in broad daylight, leaving behind his infant daughters. “We know them, Senator Ricardo Monreal, and David and Saúl, and that whole family that has always governed us. But they’ve shown us that they’ve failed.”
Spokesmen for the Zacatecas governor, David Monreal, and Fresnillo mayor, Saúl Monreal, did not respond to repeated interview requests.
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Source: The Guardian