"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Confederacy of Brutes

Ericka Gandara is one of history's tragic figures, a diminutive woman born with more heart and courage than most men.  When the police chief of  Guadalupe, Chihuahua (across the US border from Fabens,Tx.) was found murdered with his head packed in an ice chest, the job suddenly became available. It came as no surprise that nobody wanted the job. The sole applicant, Ericka Gandara a 28 yr. old police radio dispatcher got the position by default.

Guadalupe is located in El Valle de Juarez, ground zero in the war between La Linea and Chapo Guzman. By the time she was sworn in, all eight of the town's policemen had either fled or been killed.  Nobody would've thought any different of Ericka if she had walked away, but the $580 a month salary and a stubborn sense of pride kept her from doing so. 

Her family begged her to keep a low profile, but she didn't heed their advice, Ericka did newspaper interviews and was shown holding an AR-15, which she always kept on hand. Ericka as the sole law enforcement representative for the town of 9,000 residents, openly admitted to being frightened. However she was sworn to uphold the law, and she never veered off that track.

There's an image of Ericka Gandara that appeared in a newspaper. It shows her sitting on the edge of a desk next to her AR-15. She is wearing a purple fleece lined hoodie inscribed with a butterfly and the words "Los Angeles." She is flanked by pictures of the Virgin of Guadalupe, her right eye is bandaged. If this were a painting it would be titled "Woman Contemplating Her Fate"

During her six month tenure Ericka went about her business, she was not a real threat to either of the cartels. Nonetheless, on Dec. 23rd. 2010, at 6:00 a.m., ten armed men showed up at her home, they dragged her to an awaiting vehicle and then set the house on fire. Ten armed men to subdue one small woman, the AR-15 sat unused on her kitchen table.

It's difficult to contemplate how horrendous her last hours of life may have been. One can only hope that she was killed immediately after her abduction and not subjected to torture and abuse... One can only hope. Ericka Gandara's  body was discovered a couple of months later, she was discreetly buried. Her remaining family members not wishing to draw attention from her killers. 

Meoqui, Chihuahua was once a peaceful town, but now the troubles had reached this northern outpost.  In 2009, forty deaths had been attributed to drug related violence in Meoqui. The trend continued well into in 2010, it was no mystery why none of the men wanted the job of police chief.  Hermila Garcia-Quinones a 38 yr. old lawyer, took the dangerous job when nobody else would.

Known as "La Jefa" Hermila, had no previous experience in law enforcement. She was sworn in on Oct. 9th 2010 to head up a police force of 90 officers. When asked why she refused bodyguards or carried a weapon, Garcia-Quinones replied: "If you don't owe anything, you don't fear anything."  A reasonable assumption when dealing with reasonable men.

Hermila dressed well, she was good looking, educated, confident and headstrong. "La Jefa" was in charge, but she enjoyed reminding the men that she was indeed a lady. Garcia-Quinones felt that as a woman and by the force of her personality, she could walk the line between her department and Los Zetas, the dominant cartel in the area... she was wrong.

On Nov. 29th 2010 while on her way to work, Garcia-Quinones was ambushed by a convoy of gunmen and shot to death. A Chihuahua state spokesman described her assailants as "reportedly working for drug traffickers" another classic case of stating the obvious. Hermila held the job less than two months.

Hermila Garcia-Quinones was no less a tragic figure than Ericka Gandara. Both women were probably given a choice of silver or lead and both made fatal decisions. Hermila thought of herself as being in control, Ericka had no such notions. In the end, both died for sticking to their personal codes of honor and obligation.

This story will have a happy ending.  Marisol Valles Garcia, a 20 yr. old criminology student volunteered for the job as police chief  in Praxedis Guerrero, Chihuahua and lived to tell the tale. "The bravest woman in Mexico" as she came to be called, held the job for five months before death threats forced her to flee. Marisol fled Mexico before cartel killers could make their move, and is   now seeking political asylum in the U.S.

Praxedis Guerrero a small town in El Valle de Juarez, is known as "one of the most violent towns in Mexico" Marisol's predecessor was tortured and then beheaded by sicarios, naturally nobody rushed in to replace him. Valles-Garcia a mother of one, took the position "I'm doing this for my people" she said "This is not for me, I'm tired of all the drug violence."

Upon taking the job, Marisol put out word that her office would police the community and not poke around in cartel business. That move bought her some time, but it wasn't long before death threats started to come in.  Officers under her command reported that cartel sicarios were shadowing her every move. They advised Marisol to abandon her post and leave the town.

Perhaps with the deaths of Hermila Garcia-Quinones and Ericka Gandara on her mind, Valles-Garcia grew wary. When several black vehicles with dark tinted windows parked directly across the street from her office, Marisol made her choice. Within a few hours she had picked up her 1 yr. old son and crossed into the United States. To gain asylum status, one has to prove a "well- founded fear of persecution" With two female police chiefs already murdered, it would seem that Marisol Valles-Garcia has a good argument for asylum. 
Our mothers, sisters, wives, aunts, are the keystones that we build our lives around.  A healthy society, is one that holds its women in reverence, one that protects its women and children. Once that basic principle of morality and obligation breaks down, the social structure is forever damaged.  Nothing is sacred and no good deed goes unpunished in a land ruled by a confederacy of brutes.

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