The two items? First, the leader of Los Zetas, Miguel Angel Trevina Morales (AKA Z-40, Chacal [owl], and Death) was captured by Mexican Marines just south of the USofA border near Nuevo Laredo. He is/was a very bad man who, among other atrocities, allegedly "stewed" his victims in oil and gas before lighting them off. Second, although North Americans are almost never victims of drug war violence, the State Department nonetheless saw fit to warn citizens away from areas where drug cartels are active in rivalries and assaults against locals. Yet Q.Roo, where this happens often, was not on the list. Why did the State Department not include Q. Roo, a significant Zeta stronghold, in their warnings?
Why would I write about something that happened far away from us and of a State Department advisory that didn't mention our area of the world? Because it's important to understand the facts, the reality on the ground if you will, of living in a foreign country and yet at the same time remind our dear readers how and why we are nonetheless relatively safe here in Calderitas. Often, when foreigners hear of problems in Mexico, a broad brush is given the entire country and suddenly, no one and nowhere is safe. Yes, we live in Mexico. Yes, there are certainly dangerous places in Mexico just as there are in any country, USofA included. Yet we feel as safe and secure here as anywhere we've lived even more so than Belize.
Nuevo Laredo, where Morales was captured, is a long, long way from tiny Calderitas. 2,438 kilometers or about 1,515 miles. Los Zetas, one of a half dozen or so large cartels, controls most of the area from around Big Bend, Texas down the Gulf Coast to the Yucatan Peninsula (which includes Q. Roo). They are, you could say, in our own backyard. That's a lot of turf to protect and Los Zetas does so with a level of unimaginable violence. From organized crime and drug trafficking, the Zetas added extortion, kidnapping, piracy, prostitution, and human trafficking. In one incident, 269 Central American migrants were killed by Zetas in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, just south of the Texas border.
Unfortunately, the capture of Morales and another man alleged to be his chief accountant creates a vaccum that will be filled. It might be his younger brother Omar or it could be the neighboring Gulf or Sinaloa Cartels that come in. It could mean a breakup of the Zeta territory. No one knows for sure how it will shake out. Chances are violence will increase for a while as the various groups and individuals from within and without Los Zetas make their moves. Which brings us to Q. Roo, a significant piece of Zeta territory.
In March of this year Roberto Borge, Governor of Q. Roo, stated that taxi drivers in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and other tourist centers often work as salesman for the drug cartels and that corrupt municipal police may be part of the problem. This admission came on the heals of a bloody attack against a bar where taxi drivers and a syndicate boss were gathered. The machine gun attack by turf rivals killed seven.
There are over 17,000 taxis in Cancun and more in Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Chetumal. If they are all in the pockets of the Zetas and the Municipal Police are compromised, it's going to take some time to figure out who is who and deal with the problem.
It's reported that last year, 216 business closed unable to afford the "derecho de piso" or "floor charge" (AKA extortion) and "express kidnappings" are on the rise. An express kidnapping is when a victim - usually someone who appears to be prosperous, but at times just anyone - is nabbed off the street and a ransom demand is promptly conveyed to family, friends or business associates. If cash (a little or a lot) is delivered to a designated location or simply deposited in the appropriate bank account, the victim may be released within a few hours. If not, he may be released or found in multiple pieces. There's no rhyme or reason. There were over 4,000 reports of atttempted extortion between January and August of 2012. There's no data to show how many were unreported or successful. Bussinesses are on record for requesting military assistance as was provided Veracruz (along the gulf coast, also Los Zetas territory). But you'll only read about this in the local papers, hardly ever international news.
The obvious answer to the information blackout is money. Cancun (with Cozumel and Isla de Mujeres), Playa del Carmen, and Tulum are significant tourist destinations. Along with the inland town of Merida, there is also a high concentration of "gringo" expats and investors. It wouldn't serve business to let others know it could be dangerous to live here. All rely on the thin thread of hope that the violence and kidnappings continue to be Mexican on Mexican. While the Zetas regroup and worry about maintaining their stronghold on their territory, this status quo may well continue for some time to come. Or, it may not. Since logic would dictate Q. Roo would fall under the same discriminators as other dangerous States in Mexico, I believe the State Department failed in their duty to warn travelers of the situation in Q. Roo
So with that background, let's talk Calderitas and us.
Calderitas is a tiny, waterfront pueblo of maybe 5,000 people in the extreme southern portion of Q. Roo, about 4.5 hours south of Cancun and just north of the capitol, Chetumal. There are only two ways to get here by road: the bahia (bay) road and the main boulevard (Avenida de Campeche). Except for some waterfront houses and restaurants, one other very small neighborhood and the ruins of Oxtankha, there's nothing to our north and the road eventually ends in the jungle.
Bad guys don't like restrictions on their movements and Calderitas provides limited venues for escape. We have an active local police force on regular patrols with a large police barracks on the boulevard a mile away. On weekends, the Navy has well-armed, walking patrols along the waterfront as well as a fair-sized contingent of fast patrol boats in nearby Chetumal. The Air Force/Army conducts routine air patrols for drug-runners from the Chetumal airport working closely with the USofA DEA and others.
The residents run the gamut from poor to wealthy so we don't stand out except by the color of our skin. Our neighbors are friendly and they know we're retired and "home-bodies" by nature. We don't have the trappings of money. We don't own a car and we don't wear jewelry or even fancy clothes. In fact, Wifey has threatened many times to start throwing out my most comfortable (i.e, well-worn) T-shirts and shorts! I live barefoot or in flip-flops. We dress conservatively in town, don't flash money, and use ATMs in only well-populated areas. We don't hang out in nightclubs or questionable bars. In fact, we're rarely away from home after dark. Wherever we go, we are alert and aware of who and what is around us. Although we live in a larger than average house (but certainly not the largest in the neighborhood) we have a difficult to climb fence, burglar bars/doors, and two impressive dogs the larger of which barks at any human, machine, or animal that gets too close to the fence.
The bottom line is: we're safe, feel very secure, and are quite happy in Calderitas!