“Sol Prendido” formBorderland Beat
In Tamazula de Victoria very few were able to sleep between August 27 and 30. At any hour, in almost any corner of that town in northwestern Durango, the AR-15 and AK-17 rifles that neighbors have learned to identify by their cadence thundered. Grenades and tanks also rumbled in the hours when only the branches of pine trees swaying in the wind of the Sierra Madre Occidental can be heard.
For four days, some 26,000 people silently endured the din of war in the streets. From Sunday to Wednesday no one could tell the country or the Army what was happening because a group of hooded men cut the telephone lines and the cellular signal is poor in that area of the Golden Triangle. The roar of bullets and explosives announced two calamities: that the return to classes would be postponed indefinitely and that the imminent onslaught against Aureliano Guzmán Loera, El Guano, Chapo’s brother, had arrived.
An intelligence report from the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena), consulted by MILENIO, reveals a new war in the north of the country: Aureliano Guzmán Loera, who for years has made the mountains of Durango his stronghold and hideout, against the followers of Rafael Díaz Beltrán, alias El Rafita, murdered in October of last year on the alleged orders of El Guano, with whom he had a father-son relationship.
The battleground is the land where Mexico’s first president was born, Guadalupe Victoria, one of those regions where violence is suffered in silence. The villagers scream, but no one listens to them. A territory that is known in the news only when a massacre, a clandestine grave or a massive kidnapping breaks out and is lost again on the map.
In March of this year, the town made the front pages of the newspapers because the Armed Forces arrived there to catch the uncle of Los Chapitos and left empty-handed. And a week ago because of the silent battle that kidnapped dozens of families for almost 100 hours, while the country was discussing the possible presidential candidates for 2024.
The origin of the most recent shootings can be found in the name of the town. Tamazula comes from the Nahuatl word tamazollan, meaning “place of toads”. In criminal slang, a “sapo” is an informer, a betrayal that is pursued to death.
And that may help explain why at the end of last month thousands learned to sleep lulled to sleep by shrapnel, while the country ignored their suffering.
El Guano’ vs ‘El Rafita’.
Tamazula’s inhabitants have three deities that help understand the town’s bronco character: San Ignacio de Loyola, soldier and priest; Guadalupe Victoria, military man and Mexico’s first president; and the Guzmán Loera clan, the drug traffickers who made pot the region’s economic engine. Faith, politics and drug trafficking.
And on the border of the municipality with Badiraguato, Sinaloa, grows effortlessly a high quality marijuana that since the middle of the last century is envied in the United States and, recently, in Europe.
For as long as old people can remember, Tamazula has been the land of the Sinaloa Cartel. First it was a center of operations for Chapo and, later, a hideout for his brother Guano, who at 78 or 79 years of age manages a large portion of the family business. Those who dare to talk say that Aureliano Guzman is still giving orders in Tamazula, holed up in the mountains farthest from the municipal capitals since he managed to escape from the marines through a false door in a blue and white brick house.
Until October 2022, Aureliano Guzman was the man most obeyed by the people. Discreet and ruthless, no one dared to contradict his orders… until a “sapo” – a whistleblower – entrusted him with secret information and the tranquility of the community went down a cliff.
That informant told Guano that the young man he loved as if he were his son, El Rafita, was disobeying his instructions not to charge extortion fees in Tamazula, where 75 percent of the population lives in poverty, according to Coneval. Rafael Diaz Beltran allegedly charged for each head of cattle and even for each box of peanuts and beans from impoverished peasants, which began to generate anger among the people. And Los Chapitos’ uncle knows that an angry people do not take care of their capos, but rather turn them in for a reward.
“What was holding the cartels back? The former bosses, were people who valued the affection and recognition of their community more than being seen with fear. When the bosses began to fall, their bodyguards emerged, their hitmen, and that’s when the kidnappings, the payoffs, the massacres began to skyrocket.
“The clear example is Tamazula: El Guano did not want them to be charging fees and El Rafita disobeys. He was killed and all his mob who were enjoying the extortion payments rebelled and – excuse the expression – everything went to shit in that area forgotten by the government,” a source who works in the area and who has been close to the military operations told MILENIO.
Then, the fuse was lit that detonated the shootings: the troops of the late Rafita called for reinforcements to take Guano’s control of Tamazula away from him. An eye for an eye, a leader for a plaza. And the sierra began to scream with a new war.
Unknown death toll
Tamazula does not only touch Sinaloa. To the north it also touches the borders of Guadalupe and Calvo, Chihuahua, the state where La Linea, the bloodthirsty armed wing of the Juarez Cartel operates and also the mortal enemies of the Guzman Loera clan and everything related to the Sinaloa Cartel.
The information available to Sedena personnel deployed in Durango is that Rafita’s troops sought out the gunmen of La Linea to avenge the death of their leader. The proposal was to join forces so that the two would displace the veteran capo and take control of the northwest of the state, a key region for the movement of drugs, weapons and undocumented migrants to the United States.
The clash that confirmed the alliance occurred a week before the shootings in Tamazula: on August 20, La Linea hitmen used cloned National Guard patrols to kidnap Jose Domingo Carrera, alias El 010, the Sinaloa Cartel’s plaza chief in Parral. Since then, it is not known whether he is dead or alive.
Emboldened, the Chihuahua hitmen decided to advance towards Durango, guided by Rafita’s loyalists, who know Guano’s weak points, especially now that he and his bodyguards have retreated to more remote areas to prevent him from being arrested by marines and extradited to the United States, where he faces six criminal charges related to international trafficking of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl.
Thus, Tamazula was caught in a new war: La Linea and Rafita’s loyalists who want to take the town as a war trophy against El Guano and his troops who want to keep the territory as a sign that they still have strength in the sierra.
The official balance of the battle of August 27-30 reported by the Durango State Attorney General’s Office is only two dead, although the villagers speak of dozens of bodies strewn about that the hired killers themselves picked up in pickup trucks to take them to their respective clandestine cemeteries.
“Someone wanted to leave town saying he needed to buy medicine for his heart, but he didn’t make it,” a neighbor told MILENIO. “Another wanted to go out to the mountains to borrow a telephone, but the men returned him. It’s a miracle he’s alive. After that, nobody wanted to take any more risks and it was better to stay at home… as always happens”.
In Tamazula silence returned. Nobody speaks. The branches of the pine trees swaying in the wind of the Sierra Madre Occidental announce a fragile calm that will inevitably end when the next rumble of a war that is just beginning is heard.