In an interview, the pastor of the village of Creel and general vicar of the diocese, Hector Fernando Martinez, who has worked in the area for 17 years tending to 39 communities, vehemently repeats himself. This past Wednesday he reminded Governor Cesar Duarte of that fact at a public event in the community of San Ignacio organized to distribute emergency food that the state government had delivered to respond to the food shortage in Tarahumara.
The presence of narcotrafficking – explains Martinez – has devastating results for the community’s social structure, “because it uproots people from their land, displaces them from their houses, and--out of fear--they stop farming or altogether abandon their towns.” At the same time, in the face of unemployment and a lack of options, “it attracts young Rarámuri people and teenagers because it offers them work, encourages them to join; it provides an income.” Seduced by this life, teenagers and young people, who range between ages 16 and 20, end up rejecting their identity.
The middle-aged priest, a jovial character who translated the Hebrew Bible into Rarámuri, doesn’t speak of rumors; he knows it, he’s seen it, he’s lived it. Today, many of those who pass through Creel and the surrounding towns in trucks with tinted windows, music turned all the way up, and “armed to the teeth,” attended catechism with him when they were children.
He admits that the situation hurts and frustrates him: “I grieve for them, because I know sooner or later they are going to be killed, and it frustrates me because life in the Tarahumara Mountains, the expectations it gives them, it’s very little. For them, the gun, the truck, the money is more important in order to feel powerful.”
“Bless our weapons, father.”
He tells of this past December 12, when a group of them stopped him when he was travelling from one town to another. They asked him to bless their weapons: “I refused outright; I told them: ‘I will bless you, if you’d like, that God may care for you and so that you don’t use them, but I will not bless them.’” They insisted, “Come on, father. In the movie ‘El Infierno’ they bless guns. Plus we’re not the ones who are extorting money; we’re just in it for the work!
They let him go, but later on stopped him again: “They told me ‘Get out (of your car), we want you to try our weapons.’” They weren’t AK-47’s, they were grenades launchers: “I told them, I am on my way out of the community; people are gathered in my church, if you shoot they’re going to get scared, it’s not worth it, guys. Then it occurred to me to tell them that it was the Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe and that I still had people to baptize. So they let me go.”
Those kinds of experiences don’t make Hector Fernando Martinez feel threatened or fearful: “the truth is I’ve never been threatened; I’ve told them that we’re not going to refuse them access to the church when one of them passes on, but we’re not going to hold a mass, because we don’t want to be part of the narcocorrido (ballad).” He said, “One time an important narco from here was killed and they brought him to the church; they made a narcocorrido about him and the town cried and they rang the bells; you become part of it. We don’t want to let that happen.”
The problem of insecurity in Creel can’t be attributed solely to the presence of armed groups. The more difficult problem is that the town finds itself in the middle of a fight: on one side is the La Línea cartel and on the other the Sinaloa cartel. Creel is, as it’s always been, the battlefield.
One of the few remedies the priest has devised to respond to the situation is sports, particularly soccer (the locals root for C.D. Guadalajara). However, Creel has nothing more than a hard court for fast soccer: “we’ve gone door to door, we’ve told the government that we urgently need places for the kids because they don’t have anything to do and, obviously, the hitmen come into Creel with their guns and the kids look up to them, and despite that, there’s no official program, no strategy to counter it.”
Outsiders can only note the obvious: the furtive glances in the passenger busses that make the four and a half hour trip from the capital of Chihuahua to Creel; the stories of the burrito street vendor in a small town who – without anyone asking – admits that he once sold pirated goods on the street until the organized crime syndicates started to charge high protection fees; the truck drivers with tinted glass who slow down and ride along next to those who seem like strangers or out-of-towners.
Against this background, the pastor of Creel has a conviction that he calmly expresses: we’re not going to let them intimidate us.” Spanish original