Life after Cartels by Arely Lopez

Most people would think it’s a very safe feeling when you belong to a community where everyone knows everyone and talks with one another every chance they get. That, of course, isn’t until cartels invade your city, recruiting any soul they can find in order to take over entirely. That’s what happened to my hometown, Monterrey. Once El Cartel Del Golfo and Los Zetas came, our lives were changed forever. Whom could we trust? What if my neighbor, whom I once told everything, had family members inside of Los Zetas? We couldn’t trust anyone but ourselves. This wasn’t generally the idea painted in my community, until approximately four to five years ago before all the violence started, when the drug cartels began fighting for territory. So what’s really left of the community we once had under these circumstances? Absolutely nothing. Over the last few years, the increase of drug related crimes in Monterrey has forced society to become frigid and full of mistrust.

Monterrey was where my best friend and I would spend all day at each other’s houses. Where we could walk to The Tiendita or Los tacos de la Narvarte alone when we were hungry without a worry in the world. My grandma could just yell towards what used to be our mesh, see-through door to tell me that it was lunch time. The big park down the street, so many memories there, where every green stoned bench would be occupied. Everyone would hang out in the park; we’d all play there until midnight arrived and my grandma would say it was time to go inside. This was my community.

My hometown was this very diverse place, but each neighborhood stayed within themselves. You wouldn’t really see neighborhoods within neighborhoods hanging out with each other. We’d always spend time over at our friend’s houses to where their moms treated you like their own. Those were the good times. We’d walk to La Pulga, where they sold everything from fresh, juicy fruit cocktails to white corn in a cup and just shop for any CD’s on sale that we could find. Every teenager over there would be at the movies almost every Friday night. We would walk over there and after enjoy La Plaza right next to it. It was like everything was walking distance to us. We never had to worry about not having a car or a ride and if it was far, we could easily pull up a taxi. We all had church on Sunday mornings, it was located at the bottom park. It was a kids’ mass at noon, which every kid in the neighborhood looked forward to every week. After church, we would line up behind the dark man in the big blue bicycle selling “raspas de limon”. They were the perfect thing for a hot summer day. Everyone loved those.

We had a “Kermes” every July, which was a church carnival basically in where everyone would come out, even people from different neighborhoods gathered during this week. We all walked to the bottom park to enjoy the environment. Here, our families and everyone we knew would sit and play “lotteria” or simply partner up and just dance to the music. We’d spend all week with people from the neighborhood whom we already knew as well as meeting new people and riding all these rollercoasters that our community as a whole helped put together in order to enjoy them. There was never a dull moment here, never bickering or anything along those lines. We simply enjoyed participating in something where we could all come together.

This was Monterrey. Everyone always did their best to help each other, we’d all pray for each other, when someone was in need we all came together to help. We had the Gutierrez’s down the street in that white and pink two-story house. On the opposite side of the street was where Nora lived, the house with the peeling black gate. There wasn’t anyone in our big, friendly neighborhood that we didn’t know. My street “Colonia Estadio” lies in front of the several big mountains, right next to our teams’ football stadium and soccer stadium. The people living in this neighborhood consisted of nurses, business owners, insurance workers, and university professors. In Mexico, these professions fall under the very highly paid jobs, so my neighborhood was more along the lines of a wealthy neighborhood in Monterrey.

Everything changed in 2010, when Los Zetas invaded Monterrey fighting for territory against The Gulf Cartel. They were trained mercenaries, killing machines with no soul. Since this began, crime has risen ridiculously and killings were happening everywhere. The cartels started to recruit people mostly in poverty, in order to progress and sprout. They beheaded and dismembered people that wouldn’t want to join, that would betray them or wouldn’t pay the exact amount given to them as a fee for survival.  They also hung several bodies from main bridges in Monterrey for everyone to see to see with signs explaining who those people were and why they did that, making the community fear them.

The cartels have money everywhere; they have bigger and better weapons than the police and army in Mexico. The government in Mexico is corrupt. The underpaid, such as cops and surveillance, were easily bought out. Thousands have died, or simply disappeared mourned by their families. It was all focused on supplying thousands of tons of cocaine and cannabis to the United States. Chapo Guzman is one the most powerful drug lords here. A lot of businesses had to shut down because the cartels would ask for extortion money that they couldn’t afford. Cartels have so much power that they monitored the army that was supposed to be monitoring them.

They’re business first, and if you get in the way of their business, they’ll kill you. Their first objective is to kill. When I lived there, they got onto busses, and took all their money or kidnapped people to exchange their lives for money. They’d get into stores as well and hold them hostage, also kidnapped the girls there to rape them to death. Stories I’ve heard from family members and friends followed along the lines of them having friends that tried going to Mexico at that time and were assaulted. The cartels took away their truck and raped the teenage girl in the family in front of the family, who couldn’t do anything.

Young men wearing masks were shooting up places from the outside, then going in and taking their money, hijacking nice looking cars and taking ownership. They would burn down casinos full of gamblers in order to prove a point that businesses must pay the exact amount given to them to pay. There was no place safe in Monterrey. They were willing to sacrifice the innocent to get what they want. Police would also pull over girls and take them into custody, who were then given as gifts to high-ranking members of Los Zetas. When the cartels needed more muscle, they hired elite soldiers from the Mexican army as a security force. They were hired at salaries much higher than what the Mexican Army would offer. They were trained like the United States army was trained. They eventually overpowered every governmental force and took over Monterrey entirely.

Now that the drug violence has died down significantly, it’s still not the same and will never be entirely safe. When I visited Monterrey this summer, I noticed the park down the street that I once played in every night with my friends — that was once full of people — has now become entirely empty. I called my childhood best friend the other day. She said to me, “Now I have to be really careful when I go to work. I have to make sure I leave my daughter with my mom or your grandma because you can’t just trust everyone. There are certain busses that are extremely dangerous to take. There are certain streets and parts of Monterrey that you should never walk through.” All the neighbors that once conversed no longer talked and kept to themselves. The kidnappings are still bad. In fact, they recently kidnapped my uncle, who owns several universities in Mexico, because of the extortion money. This time we went, something was different. We didn’t go out as much as before from fear that something bad could happen.

The first thing that stood out to us was that the streets were full of soldiers in trucks and tanks, which was also scary because there were members of the cartels dressed up as soldiers stopping people. You were never really sure who was who in reality. The streets were now empty of Monterrey civilians for the most part during the day, and at night it was vacant. A lot of older places that were there before were out of business and people that I once knew moved to the United States in fear and hoping for a better life. A lot of people just stopped going to entertainment places such as movies, casinos and the malls because they weren’t sure they were safe. The “Kermes” that once happened every summer were no longer there. Just as my cousin Jesus said, “I think all hope is gone here. Monterrey will never be the same place we grew up in. It’s really heartbreaking, especially because I always dreamed of my children being able to experience the Monterrey I once knew and loved so much.” I completely agree and couldn’t have said it better myself. My community in Monterrey was once perfect. It’s where most of my family resides, which I miss the most. It no longer is the Monterrey I can draw out for everyone to see. Though I hope things could go back to normal, I’m sure it will never be the same. The memories of what it used to be will forever remain with me.

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Life after Cartels by Arely Lopez

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