by Karla Gutiérrez Hernández *
The gas station of Santa Cecilia 2, a municipality in Hidalgo very close to the Pemex refinery, seems like a leit motive for an old Western film; where the only movement is the wind, with small cries of terror, lonely and sad in the middle of January 2019 as if there were no people, much less cars. On the dispatching machines there is a blanket where an advertisement reads: “station and plot of land for sale with everything.” But the history of that station can not be summarized in a sale, or in its gloomy appearance.
For six years now, entire families of Santa Cecilia have dedicated themselves to “huachicol”, a term used for the illegal extraction of gasoline through clandestine seizures for sale at a very low price. Of course, all of this is under the knowledge of Pemex workers, many of whom operate from the refinery and are the ones who have helped to locate outlets, routes and distribution schedules. The intake they have been supplied with is not located in this locality, it is about 10 or 12 kilometers away, in “El Mezquite” which used to be visited by residents of the neighboring community of Tenancingo as an attraction due to its very large and old tree that provides extensive shade. I have very good memories of that place, in my childhood during the Easter holidays with my whole family. Until a few days ago, this area was under control, because that’s where the pipelines were “milked” and the distribution began; from the surrounding communities to other municipalities and other states.
My grandfather is originally from Tenancingo, went to work in Mexico City for 35 years and for 25 years has retired and returned to his village, as he says. Through his window he has seen how entire families of peasants have transformed themselves into “huachicoleros”, assassins and kidnappers of entire communities, like his, since it is located between the clandestine takeover and the area where they maneuver. Sadly, from his window, he sees how his town has become a criminal passage: shootings, trucks, shouts, banda music, are the components of each night and early morning in these communities.
Who gave them the “license”? Nobody knows. How many liters do they take per day? Thousands, because all night it doesn’t stop, from 11:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. How many are involved? Difficult to know when almost the entire community is involved. 12 year old children deliver gas at home in 20 liter drums at a cost of 600 pesos, and even those who do not want to buy are threatened, so many have had to buy to stay safe. Elderly people also participate, they keep watch that the enemy (the police or other huachicoleros) do not come, that nobody sees more than what they can see, in the apparent calm.
For four years there has been a curfew and it is at 10:00 pm. Nobody who does not belong to the families of Santa Cecilia leaves after that time and if they do they have to identify themselves with the “bosses.” If you are from the community they will easily let you go with a little warning, if you do not owe them anything, or if you did not see anything of their “work”. Otherwise they know where you live and who your family is, and they will not hesitate to “visit” you with a weapon in hand.
Among young people aged 15 to 25 who live in the area, there is no other option but work between trucks, drugs, prostitution, the business of gasoline, weapons and money: “La vida loca y corto”, a slogan they have made and hope that it doesn’t change when someone comes to steal their territory, because they are not the only ones in the area, because there are betrayals and there are other families who also want to live off that.
From a quiet town to a kidnapped one, that’s how Tenancingo went in the last six years. Most of the people were involved in the field, cargo transport, trade or migrated to the United States to offer a better life to their children, so they could study, so they would not suffer a poor life like the many generations they have suffered. But some young people were persuaded by the “bosses”, they did not want to continue studying and they had the possibility of obtaining fast and “easy” money, some others are threatened to work. The business is big and requires young people to work by hook or by crook.
By hook or by crook, as it was for a 22-year-old who was forced to work for long days to get gas, load it in drums and put it in vans. When he wanted to leave the “business” he was killed along with his cousin of 26 years, who accompanied him. His grieving mother can not accept it. She has lost a son and a nephew, she has lost her family, because her husband is in the United States to give them a better quality of life, so that their children could go to university, but that American dream is over. Thus, one by one, two by two, or ten by ten, they have been dying. The village funeral home has more work than the hospital.
The surrounding towns have been left without young people, with fear, with uncertainty, without work, and with a lot of gasoline. It leaves me disconsolate to see armed people on the roads, knowing that if you turn them in you can do something, but have to pass by as if nothing has happened, seeing that it has no solution.
My dad, who lived all his childhood there until he was 17, looks sadly at his town, looks desolate. There are no markets, there are no shops, and the few that are there are surrounded by a fence. You must ask from afar as if the owners were imprisoned and sold you some cookies “clandestinely.”
What saddens my dad is that many of his childhood friends have been left alone because their children have been killed. They have had no justice because they don’t come from money or have a powerful surname and they know that there will be no justice for them because they live threatened and behind the shadows. The municipal president is aware and colluded, the municipal police works giving protection to the huachicoleros and not the state police. So there is no one to turn to, the only thing is a deep pain for the loss of their children and dignity.
For three weeks the pipelines have been closed and the huachicoleros have not been able to be “supplied” as they usually were, as part of measures against the theft of gasoline carried out by the new government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. People are more afraid to leave, there is no gasoline, no one has left them, no bullets are heard, no trucks with banda music are heard. What will happen? Will the army arrest the 12 year old children who distribute it? Will they take whole families? Nobody knows. What is known is that last Sunday the army arrived and the whole community came out to defend the huachicoleros. There was one dead and one wounded, none of the community, because cannon fodder is not used on people close to the “bosses”.
The gas station is a leit motive of the army entrance of a huachicolera community. It is the entrance to a place that for years now has had a new law, which has nothing to do with customs and practices.
To go beyond this panorama I am full of questions, because the town where I used to spend my vacations and visit my family has become a place of fear. And then I think: how will this new government give hope to these communities? How will it stop whole families from giving up on something that has left them money and power like never before? And by before I refer to centuries of neglect, which have been inequalities, poverty, subjugation and hunger, and that, for the first time they own something -a shady and sinister business- but theirs at the end of it.
The fact of acquiring Huachicol became like the so-persecuted marijuana: at some time, a harmless substance but in its process and distribution was filled with blood and suffering of children, young people, women, men, that is to say, of whole peoples. Maybe tomorrow it will be the water that is stolen and illegal.
The gas station is for sale because it went bankrupt. In more than six years no one charges “legally.” It seems a distant history of my reality, but it is the daily life of my family, of being kidnapped, far away and with fear. The police only enter to protect the organization, nobody else goes. Not even the new president, who has visited more communities in the country, knows it. It seem invisible and between shadows, until 11:00 pm when they can have the “opportunity” to live their “everyday life.”
A failure of the State or the same extended presence of that state with all the complicity it can have in Mexico?