Politicians and Police
The area's other presidential election,
plus who's really policing Palomas.
The July 1 presidential elections have come and gone in Palomas. I heard no complaints of voting irregularities or abuses from anyone I spoke to, or at least none that residents knew or cared about.
Fraud might not have mattered much anyway, since the PRI party candidate Enrique Pena Nieto got about twice as many votes in Palomas as the closest rival, Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist PRD. The two candidates got about the same proportion of votes in the whole state of Chihuahua.
The director of the Palomas high school, Joel Carreon, told me why he thought Pena Nieto had won in Chihuahua. He explained that both his grandfather and father belonged to the PRI, "more by inheritance than by reason," he said — meaning they voted priista because it was in the family. He felt this was the way Palomas was, as well as the entire state.
Nationally the race was much closer. Pena Nieto won 38% of the votes, and Lopez Obrador got 32%.
Roman Alvidres, who was Palomas mayor Miguel Chacon's campaign manager, says the last eight mayors in Palomas have been priistas. Before that there was one who was a member of the conservative PAN party, the party of departing President Felipe Calderón.
A lot of Americans are probably wondering what those muddleheaded Mexicans are thinking of, to elect another President from the undemocratic PRI party that governed Mexico for 71 years.
The most important reason is that the vote was a rejection of Calderón's drug war policy that has been so disastrous for the people of Mexico. The party also is not the monstrous thing to most Mexicans as it seems to most Americans. It's just another party.
So Mexico got a president who looks like a telenovela star and who married a real-life telenovela star. Pena Nieto has had a close association with corrupt politicians like former Governor Arturo Montiel in the state of Mexico, where he also was governor.
Pena Nieto has told the Mexican people that he wants to subdue the violence from the drug war, and it's understood that he probably would do that by cutting a deal with the cartels. The US wants Pena Nieto to slog away with us in the fight against the drug cartels.
The most important issue in Mexico in the past few years has been the drug war that's killed over 50,000 people. The issue has lost its urgency in Palomas because it's been so quiet there for over a year. I find myself getting kind of blasé about the violence because of this, even though some people say the peace is due to one cartel winning over the other, and though I know much of Chihuahua and other regions of Mexico are still bleeding.
The state news in the Diario de Juarez is still peppered with murders. In one well-publicized case, 20 members of one family fled Villa Ahumada because of struggles between political parties. A man selling chicken at a roadside stand was killed in Chihuahua City, and a teacher from Juarez was shown being carried away on a stretcher there.
Bands of narcos are apparently moving around the state, terrorizing one region after another. There were five shootouts in one day in Camargo, and four people were killed. The police chief in nearby San Francisco de Conchos fled with four policemen, and the mayor in neighboring La Boquilla was afraid to talk to the press. Several people have been killed in separate incidents in Meoqui.
Activist Julian Lebaron was the leader of a brief movement in early July that led to the removal of the Federal Police in Ascension for multiple cases of extortion and other abuses. Palomas has had only its local police for quite a while.
One woman I've been acquainted with for years, who is more educated than most people in Palomas, has recently been sharing stories with me about the local police. She doesn't want her name used.
Some police, she says, steal money from people by stopping them for speeding or other minor offenses and insisting that the offenders pay the fine directly to them instead of to the treasurer, which is what the law says you do. The fines are sometimes inflated.
According to this woman, it used to be common for police to torture people in Palomas (they used cables from car batteries) until about 2000, but they don't anymore.
In one extraordinary case about a year ago, a man from Palomas who had been living in New Mexico was apprehended by Palomas police (because they thought he was an outsider) and then beaten and robbed of his car and of almost $500. This man fled to the US and is likely still there.
This woman told me something else that kind of floored me about a jefe of the narco-traffickers in Palomas, who acts at times like a policeman. This man seems more capable of maintaining order than the legitimate authorities.
There was a young guy driving around like a drag racer in one part of town, and this jefe was the one who straightened things out. He talked to someone in authority in the neighborhood, telling him he should talk to the kid's parents.
"He doesn't want any disorder in the town," she said. This woman has dealt with him, too, and even knows his name. "Everybody knows him," she claimed (even though no one else has said this out loud to me). The kind of issues he gets involved with is limited.
It would be better if the elected town officials were in control, but to the people who live there the lack of violence is bliss. Young people are now going out late at night to enjoy themselves. In practical terms, it doesn't matter to them who brought about the peace locally.
My friend tells me that they actually feel safer with the narco jefe than they do with the legal police.
The prospective Pena Nieto government will probably cause no more than a ripple in this scheme of things. The ghost government, which is almost certainly not an isolated phenomenon in Mexico, seems to have a life of its own.
But until things change, one way or another, Palomas residents will be waltzing around the contradictions and fraudulence of political life in Mexico with aplomb.
Update: There was good news last month when the stockyard workers on both sides of the border were rehired after a heart-stopping lapse in April. The workers on the Mexican side had actually gotten severance pay that they were able to keep. The world is not completely coming apart at the seams, after all.
Columnist Marjorie Lilly also wrote this issue's story about Preferred Produce.