Christmas in Zacatecas
A soldier tours a Mexico City Bus unit. “The quicker they show their IDs, the easier it is,” he says. The passengers show him their credentials and he decides who should be questioned. “Where are you from?” he asks a young man. “From City… from the State of Mexico,” he replies. “And what does he do?” “I work in a workshop as a presser.” The exchange ends. The military element continues with the seats in the next row. At the end it descends. The same process is repeated kilometers ahead, near the border between Aguascalientes and Zacatecas.
As the beginning of the year 2021 approached and Zacatecas also led the first places in homicides nationwide, the Secretary of National Defense (Sedena) announced the Support Plan for the security of that entity. 2,114 elements of the Mexican Army, 1,800 agents of the National Guard, 930 state police officers and 1,257 municipal police officers are the number of troops that the state had in 2022.
Military filters, patrols by members of the National Guard, overflights in the capital and checks on citizens are the actions included in the operation deployed in Zacatecas. The presence of military elements in the region is already common for the residents, who this December do their Christmas shopping while an official helicopter surrounds the Government Palace in the capital.
The same occurs in nearby territories such as Jerez and Fresnillo, and those that are a little further away, such as Valparaíso.
“They always come. If it’s not them (military), it’s the National Guard. A lady who lives near them (from her base of operations in Jerez) told me that the other day they asked her if she knew how to make enchiladas. She answered yes and the next day they came with cheese and the ingredients for her to prepare them for,” says a young woman who sells juices in the Jerez municipal market. In front of her, two elements of the Sedena choose the vegetables for dinner.
In the midst of the militarization of public security and unbridled violence in the region, the towns of Zacatecas celebrate the Christmas season with rockets, festivals, dances, parades and music. They do it, however, without forgetting those shadows that have been with them for years and that, despite the promises of politicians, do not leave.
At 8:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 24, Sigifredo Noriega, the Bishop of Zacatecas, offered a Christmas mass for Catholics in the Cathedral dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption. He prayed for the sick and the poor, and also called for peace. He lamented that families lost fathers, mothers, brothers and children in 2022 as a result of the war between criminal groups. In the church they also remember the thousands who have had to leave their communities to take refuge in municipal capitals in the face of horror.
Alex, a tour guide, says that Zacatecas has been at war for more than a century. First at the time of the Mexican Revolution, then due to the struggles to stop the mining companies. Today, in the 21st century, along the drug routes. The state, located in the north-central region of Mexico and adjacent to eight entities -two of them border-, is key to the transfer of narcotics to the United States. The main Mexican criminal groups operate in their territories.
Official operations to reduce the impact and effects of battles between criminals continue, at least until the end of 2022, without yielding results. In the middle of Christmas night, four young people have disappeared, but they are not the only ones, in businesses, bus terminals and roads, search sheets flood the walls and illustrate the violent Zacatecas of today.