Common crime wins in the turbid river of insecurity in Monterrey by Sanjuana Martínez

Sanjuana Martínez
La Jornada newspaper
Sunday, February 27, 2011, page 10 

“Laid back Wednesday” nights in the Altata Sinaloa Seafood restaurant in Monterrey became popular for its 2-for-1 beers, seasoned shrimp, and live music. Last February 16th, however, was anything but laid back. A commando of seven men with ski masks and “AFI vests” showed up shooting assault rifles in the air, robbed customers, and raped nine women. [Translator’s note: AFI is the Federal Investigative Agency, the Mexican equivalent of the FBI.]

It happened at 11:55pm, when there were more than 100 people. That night’s enjoyable atmosphere turned into tragedy. The band stopped playing “El Baleado” when the masked men entered. Some customers took advantage of these first moments of confusion and screaming to flee. During a few minutes there was a terrifying silence, broken by the first orders at gunpoint: “Everybody on the ground – cell phones, wallets, purses!”.

Two men picked up the spoils table by table. Next came the worst part: “The women to the other side. The men stay here”, ordered the leader. A couple was hidden under a table. The ski-masked man threw over the table and grabbed the women as her partner tried to hang on to her. He then pointed the end of his assault rifle’s barrel at his head and barked: “Let her go asshole or I’ll fuck you up!”. The young man finally let her go. “No, no, no!”, she screamed, as they took her away.

The agonizing scene of separation of women repeated itself. The worst prediction played out when they got to the back: “Take off your clothes! All of your clothes!”, they told them. Now naked, the criminals went about choosing. They took the women to the bathrooms or to the kitchen and raped them without minding that the others could see. The seven hooded men did what they wanted. 

Identification Cards

The restaurant is an open air bar with a palm-thatched roof with plastic tarps to shelter clients from the cold. Those who were seated near the edges were able to escape while the criminals were busy carrying out rapes and the robbery, which included 70 thousand pesos [about $6,500 USD] from the restaurant’s cash reserves. As they finished, they warned: “We have your cell phones and your identification cards here. Whoever dares report this is going to get fucked up along with their family”. 

A cell phone rang. One of the assailants moved towards the young man to whom it belonged and hit him with the rifle in the head and the ribs: “Car keys!” the ringleader demanded. They then chose which vehicles to steal after making the owners identify them. 

The hooded men left the restaurant by the back exit with various naked women. “Let’s go, get in!”, they yelled as the women cried. Some underwear was left at the scene. There were also blood stains: “Three or four young ladies ran past here. They stopped on Revolución Avenue and got into a taxi. They were crying”, says a witness.

The bar, now shut down, is in the Rincón de la Primavera neighborhood, near Revolución Avenue. It’s been a week since those events. It’s 10 at night and the atmosphere is calm. There are various food spots nearby. Some employees who were also working that horrible night agree it was an authentic nightmare. “One of the girls ran out. As soon as she turned the corner, she found a police patrol car parked in the gas station and she got in; but the police made her get out. They were protecting the bad guys. They are one in the same, those from the state police, and that’s why the south part of the city is like it is”, narrates a witness. 

Two days later, only Altata’s owner had filed a complaint with the police. 

Common crime

The authorities justify their lack of action and consider what happen to be “rumors”, arguing that there are no citizen police reports, but in blogs and social networks the victims unload and offer their testimonies. At 1:30am, some young men whose names have been withheld for security reasons, began to tell about what they lived through: “They robbed some girls, took off their clothes, and raped them…we had been having a good time, man, with the guys from the band singing ‘El Baleado'”, writes one youth in Facebook.

Another answers: “They struck me with a rifle butt in the head and in the ribs and hit me in the face… I was in the broads’ bathroom and they had them take off their clothes and leaned them over and fucked one”.

The first one adds: “I was in the men’s room and they sent me to the kitchen and they were fucking two in there”.

Another young victim spoke to La Jornada via email about what had happened: “When I was going to throw myself on the ground one of them kicked me in the back and I landed face down. They were wearing ski masks and AFI vests and jeans. They made the women take their clothes off, but the position I had landed in was facing the front part so I didn’t see what else they did to them. From what I heard, they took away several. Because they said: ‘Let’s go, get in!’ and one of them was screaming”. 

Marissa says that, after the attack, “my husband is a gynecologist in a private hospital. He told me that yesterday two young women, 18 and 21 years old, came to his office with their mother, saying that the day before they had been raped in a Revolución area bar along with several other women. The attack happened in front of their husband and boyfriend and that at 2am they were allowed to leave and they realized that there were two police patrol cars watching the bar. They don’t want to file a police report because their identification cards were taken and they went to the gynecologist to get morning after pills to avoid a pregnancy”.

Twitter and Facebook users have become sources of information and street guardians. Shootouts, robberies or blockades are announced immediately by twitter users, often before they’re reported in traditional media outlets.

Three days after the events in the Altata restaurant, a commando of 3 men using bandannas to cover their faces charged into the Carl Jr’s hamburger restaurant in the southern part of the city at 9pm during a kid’s party. There were more than 50 customers there. One of the assailants fired shots into the air. Panic took over. Among children’s screams, the men stole 3 thousand pesos from the cash register and robbed a customer of his belongings. He opted to not file a police report.

Weeks earlier, the Starbuck’s on Eugenio Garza Sada Avenue, also in the south, was severely punished by criminal elements. The same happened to two Los Generales restaurant franchises, La Anacua, Las Alitas: “There have been more than 10 violent hold ups of businesses in recent weeks”, says Jorge Guerrero Martínez, president of the National Chamber of the Restaurant and Condiment Industry (Canirac). He adds that it’s a group of robbers that focuses on restaurants and recognizes that these businesses have reported a drop of up to 75 percent in night time business.

Monterrey nights have changed drastically due to the insecurity. The city’s streets are empty after 9pm. Crime statics compiled by a private sector initiative are clear; robberies targetting businesses have risen 75 percent, aggravated homicides have risen 526 percent, and car thefts are up 620 percent. The report also mentions police corruption.

The robberies don’t just affect restaurants. Supermarkets, hospitals, private firms, and homes have also suffered robberies: “The data indicates that this is the work of common criminals and not organized crime, who are taking advantage of society’s fear. I ask victims to come forward and report”, says Jorge Domene, spokesperson of Nuevo León Security.

The Crime-Complaint Binominal

But the crime rate doesn’t match the number of complaints filed with the police. People are scared because of threats. On Sunday, February 20th, three gunmen held up a medical facility in the Nogalar neighborhood, robbed patients and 90 thousand pesos in cash reserves. The same happened in the Women’s Medical Center in the Obispado neighborhood, where a masked gunman entered and robbed two women of their purses.

In light of the wave of robberies, the Canirac distributes a training manual for employees. “To bring back tranquillity”, the mayor of Monterrey, Fernando Larrazabal, promotes the so-called panic button in restaurants, bars and businesses, at a cost of between 8 thousand and 10 thousand pesos, while the municipality of Guadalupe has already began to hand them out for free.

A witness to the events en the Altata restaurant says one can no longer live in Monterrey as before: “I experienced what happened at the seafood restaurant, the next day in the Smart supermarket, and yesterday there was another by my house in Sierra Ventana. We’ve already grown accustomed to the shootouts”.

Original article in Spanish

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