I made this video recently when I was in Culiacan, Sinaloa, where I walked the grounds of Jardines del Humaya, the cemetery that is the final resting place of dozens of legendary drug traffickers.
It looks like a mini-Beverly Hills. Some of the tombs have air conditioning, barbecue grills, sound systems, even bulletproof glass. A few are the size of a house or two near where I live.
Immigrant village cemetery, Michoacan
One had a long banner to a fallen, presumably murdered, brother, swearing to him, “There’s no truce.” (No hay tregua.)
I’ve seen much smaller versions of this in immigrant villages. One thing immigrants do with their dollars is build larger burial places. They do away with the iron crosses of their poverty and build themselves sepulchers with a statue of Jesus or the Virgin, maybe an open bible in stone.
But these are modest in comparison to the Jardines del Humaya.
Strange, excessive, lurid. I felt as if dropped into some foreign kingdom. These are the new Pharoahs.
I made this video with the help of my anonymous guide. I hope you like it. Feel free to subscribe to my Youtube channel – True Tales Video.
In 1990, Francisco Arellano Felix was owner of Frankie Oh’s – a crass discoteque built with a Flintstones prehistoric decor of large stucco boulders along Mazatlan’s beachfront drive. He was known to be anxious to enter the city’s high society. He was a friend of the great Mexican middle-weight, Julio Cesar Chavez.
That February, Rocio del Carmen Lizarraga was selected Queen of Carnival, one of the most high-profile positions in Mazatlan. She was 17, a fresh-faced high school student from a middle-class family.
A few months later, a small article appeared in the newspaper reporting that Rocio del Carmen had disappeared. Not only that, but that possibly she had been stolen by Francisco Arellano Felix. The newspaper said that her family was distraught, feared for her safety and hired private detectives to search for her.
Mazatlan spun with rumors. But though the reigning Queen of Carnival had apparently been stolen by a member of one of the state’s most notorious drug-running families, newspapers published only occasional short stories below the fold.
There were reports the couple was in Guadalajara, that they had married in a church. (Turned out that the bishop in the area refused to marry them, and they had to resort to a minor priest to perform the service.)
Finally, Rocio del Carmen’s mother, Oliva Lizarraga, told reporters she had spoken with Arellano Felix, who had not let her speak with her daughter, since “she was showering.”
The mother said her daughter, and her now-jilted fiancee, Oscar Coppel, from one of Mazatlan’s wealthiest families, were “victims of destiny” and that “God was the only one who can put things in their place.”
It was all very surreal.
Finally, the episode concluded when Rocio del Carmen took out a large newspaper ad with a short letter that is both thoroughly bizarre and a beautiful exposition of Mexican fatalism.
She was in Mazatlan, she wrote. She thanked people for their support, but added, “I don’t want to be asked by anyone because it would be embarrassing to have to say whether I left of my own will or was taken by force.
“I don’t want to judge the father of my children and he who gave me his last name, since he’s never mistreated me. I accept with resignation the path that destiny has prepared for me, and if God has put me on this road, I have to continue.”
She signed the ad, “Your friend, Rocio del Carmen Lizarraga de Arellano.”
And with that the episode ended, as quietly as it began.
About the worst that came down were pronouncements from Mazatlan’s high society. Arellano Felix “will never be accepted by the Mazatlan society that he wanted to enter,” Ernesto Coppel, owner of one of the city’s largest hotels, father of a Senorita Sinaloa and uncle of Rocio del Carmen’s ex-fiancee, said at the time.
Today, the AF cartel is nothing like what it once was. One other AF brother, the feared Ramon, was killed in 2002. Three others are in US prisons. And so the death of this Arellano Felix is more about history than anything else.
The questions are brought on by the rape of six Spanish tourists last week, and by a constant narcoviolence going back to the real beginnings of Mexico’s cartel war — that being roughly 2004-05, when heads were placed on stakes and that kind of thing.
The state of Guerrero has been infamous within Mexico for its wanton violence, brought on by its intense heat, poverty and caciquismo – a term referring to the political and economic control by certain families and individuals.
Here’s what Jose Carreno Figueras, from the Tec de Monterrey, had to say:
“You have to remember that Guerrero was always a problem state, and that except for a few enclaves — like Acapulco, Taxco and Zihuatanejo –where there were appearances of authority, it was never far from being ungovernable. Political bosses, criminality, banditry, injustice have always been part of the perennial panorama of Guerrero.”
You just never could see much of it from an Acapulco hotel room — until recently, that is.
For those who read Spanish, Jose Antonio Alvarez Lima had the following remembrance of Acapulco in the 1960s’s glory days, and its fall in the 1970s — calling the city “a mirror of our own failure”:
“Durante los sesentas, disfrute Acapulco y mi primera juventud. Era el paraiso. Quizá uno de los sitios más bellos del mundo, junto con Río. En los setentas, el populismo echeverrista llenó los cerros de invasores sin servicios y se inició el deterioro desastroso que hoy conocemos. Acapulco es el espejo de nuestro fracaso. De la corrupción generalizada, la demagogia, la codicia y la indiferencia.
“El mismo futuro que espera para Cancún y las Rivieras Maya y Nayarita. Nunca tan pocos y tan rápido han hecho tanto daño a la naturaleza.”
Torres Felix, (photo left) was the brother of Javier “El JT” Torres Felix (photo right), who was the head of the cartel’s security before his arrest and extradition to the U.S.in 2006.
This time Army soldiers guarded his body to prevent it from being stolen — as happened to the corpse of Zeta leader Heriberto Lazcano a week before.
Manuel Torres Felix — also known as El Ondeado — was known to be especially bloody, and became, perhaps for that reason, the subject of numerous corridos by the new wave of corrido singers, most of whom are from Southern California and who seem to have chosen sides (or were forced to do so) in Mexico’s drug-cartel wars.
With an AK-47 and a bazooka on our heads blowing off heads that cross our path We’re bloodthirsty and crazy – We love to kill Bullets fired and extortions carried out, just like the best of us Always in a caravan of armored cars, wearing bullet-proof vests and ready to execute people)
Man, where is the oblique, poetic style of Chalino Sanchez and his tales from the Mexican rancho now that we need them?
I find it interesting that M1, and another sicario, El Macho Prieto, became the focus of so many corridos, rather than Chapo Guzman or Mayo Zambada — the Sinaloa cartel’s leaders.
Don’t know, but his death might do something to undermine the idea that the government is in cahoots with the Sinaloa Cartel.
This morning’s news that Heriberto Lazcano (pictured here), leader of the bloodthirsty Zeta drug cartel in Mexico, may have been killed by the Mexican military reminded me of a song by Los Cenzontles, the Mexican roots-music band from the Bay Area. (Update below: Lazcano’s corpse stolen.)
The Silence was recorded in February in a session in Echo Park with David Hidalgo, from Los Lobos, who has the vocals on the track, and singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, who sings backup.
A great, elegant tune about Mexico’s drug violence — one of the few songs whose achingly beautiful feel does some kind of justice to the tragedy.
The song is from the band’s great new CD, Regeneration — for which (full disclosure) I wrote the liner notes. The album mixes norteno, a little sixties rock, some blues and funk — all in a really strong, bold sound.
The band started as part of a grant to get kids involved in music in the East Bay. Years later, it’s an accomplished crew, having recorded several albums and artists such as Hidalgo, Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal.
On a lower note, the Zetas started out as Mexican military special operations commandos and were paid to desert by Osiel Cardenas Guillen, then the leader of the Gulf Cartel, which ran the territory on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande Valley.
Cardenas, now doing 25 years in a US prison, hired them — 31 of them — as bodyguards. It took only a few years for them to realize that they could be a cartel as well. They branched off, recruited heavily among poor youth and returning deportees from the U.S. They formed new cells like amoeba, and became a fearsome force across Mexico and down into Guatemala.
On Friday, armed men shot up the newspaper’s offices and threw an explosive device as well. It marked the seventh armed attack on media offices in the state of Tamaulipas in six years.
The city, opposite Laredo, Texas, has been the scene of repeated flare-ups of intense violence between drug cartels. It was the first Mexican city to erupt in the drug violence in 2005, as the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf Cartel, with its then-allies, the Zetas, battled for hegemony.
The current battle for the Nuevo Laredo plaza — the term for drug territory leading into the U.S. — is between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas. Also on Friday, 14 decapitated bodies were found stuffed into a minivan in the city.
In a story for the Houston Chronicle, ace reporters Dudley Althaus and Dane Schiller, wrote that a banner over an overpass, addressed to the Gulf Cartel, read: “This is how I am going to finish off all the fools you send to heat up the plaza. We’ll see you around, you bunch of parasites.”