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Mar 20, 2017
The Drug War: Supporters Say Mexico Couple Wrongly Accused
Supporters protest alleged unlawful detentions of
Luis Quintana and Ilse Elizabeth Ramirez
The Drug War: Supporters say Zihuatanejo couple wrongly accused
Special to the Digie Zone Express
Photos courtesy of Hercilia Castro
By Kent Paterson/Correspondent
ZIHUATANEJO, MEXICO - Imagine
being informed by a Facebook news site that your loved one has been arrested as
That's what happened to the families of Luis Angel Quintana and
Ilse Elizabeth Ramirez.
The residents of the Mexican tourist town of
Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, were stunned to learn second hand that their relatives
had been picked up in a Feb. 12 police-military operation and accused of
serious charges related to organized crime.
Michell Quintana said she first found out
about the arrests of her brother Luis Angel, 26, and his girlfriend Ilse
Elizabeth, 27, from a cousin who read
the news on Facebook the night of Feb. 12 and immediately contacted
"We are still in shock. We can't believe
he's been detained. He doesn't know (the other suspects). He's focused on his
music, his group," the sister said.
First meeting in high school, Ilse and Luis
are respected members of Zihuatanejo society. Luis is the bass player for
Expresion Immune, a local rock group popular among both locals and the many
foreigners who visit or live in the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo area.
Gaviana described his sister as the first in
his family to successfully pursue a professional career and land a job with a
bank. For two years, Ilse lived in Playa del Carmen on the Maya Riviera south
of Cancun but recently returned to Zihuatanejo, where she moved in with Luis.
"She's worked and studied since she was
very young," the older brother said. She's the only one who's achieved a
career in our family. She had to leave Zihuatanejo because it was difficult
here. She comes back and everything is taken away."
Luis and Ilse were considering marriage when
their lives were turned upside down on Feb 12, according to Quintana.
In interviews, Quintana and Ramirez said
relatives headed to the local headquarters of the Office of the Federal
Attorney General (PGR) the same evening of the arrests but were informed that
the detainees had been moved to a prison near Acapulco. Neither Luis Quintana
nor Ilse Ramirez had been allowed to make a phone call home prior to the
transfer, according to their sister and brother.
Luis and Ilse were living together in a modest
apartment in Zihuatanejo when their building was raided the morning of Sunday,
February 12, after a patrol of Guerrero state police reportedly spotted a taxi
with armed men and pursued the vehicle to the living complex. In an official statement, the PGR said
AR-15, AK-47 and Uzi automatic weapons in addition to bullets and clips were
discovered inside the complex.
According to the federal agency, nine people,
six men and three women were detained on illegal weapons charges and jailed in
Acapulco. Two of the detainees were former municipal cops, the PGR said.
Some press accounts linked the detainees to
the Guerrero Guard, one of several organized crime groups battling for control
of Zihuatanejo and the Costa Grande of Guerrero state.
But Quintana and Ramirez insist that their
siblings, who had recently moved into the apartment, lived separately from the
other suspects, did not know the rest of the detainees and were not involved in
"I don't think it's just about the PGR
involving innocent people, even though proof of of innocence has been
shown," Quintana said, detailing that work documents, personal testimonies
and even a fingerprint test of the confiscated weapons all attested to the
innocence of Luis and Ilse.
The apartment building where Quintana and
Ramirez were arrested was identified as belonging to Francisco Guido, a nephew
of the current mayor of Zihuatanejo, Gustavo Bello. Guido was not charged with
any crime and his property not seized, an action Mexican authorities sometimes
take following drug raids.
Pressed on the issue, Mayor Bello told
reporters in Zihuatanejo last month that he would help provide legal support to
Quintana and Ramirez.
"I am going to support them as a lawyer,
as a human being, but the mayor as such has nothing to do with this,"
Bello was quoted in the Acapulco-based Internet news site Laplazadiario.com
More than one month after they were arrested,
Quintana and Ramirez remain detained in Acapulco without bail under a Mexican
law, el arraigo, that allows the government to hold suspected individuals for
up to 90 days before a decision is made whether or not to proceed with criminal
If there is any bright light in an obscure
spot, the couple has been treated relatively well by custodians and inmates and
not suffered torture, as is frequently the case with detainees in Mexico,
The Movement for Luis and Ilse
Luis and Ilses' arrests have inspired a
support movement that's gone international. Since February, public protests,
petitions and benefit concerts have demanded the couple's release. Posters for
a February 26 march that called for justice are still visible on the streets.
Zihuatanejo's world-renowned musical couple,
Gabriela and Rodrigo, whose gigs include a performance at Barack Obama's White
House, are among the musicians who are pitching in their creative energy see
Luis and Ilse free.
A link to a change.org petition on
Zihuatanejo.net, an Internet site and message board popular with expats,
snowbirds and tourists, has garnered more than 700 signatures.
Publicity about the case of Isle and Luis
sparked debate on the message board about Article 33, the prickly section of
the Mexican Constitution that prohibits the involvement of foreigners in the
country's politics. Article 33 was invoked during the 1990s in the deportations
of foreigners immersed in solidarity movements with Chiapas' Zapatistas.
Writing on the message board, site
administrator Rob Whitehead took issue with a view that Article 33 applied to
Ilse and Luis' case. Although Whitehead cautioned against foreigners
participating in marches, he said other actions were appropriate.
"We can sign the petition for their
release. We can continue to donate to their funds. We can make others aware of
their plight. I and others feel the more light that is shone upon this, the
more the Gov't will need to take action to rectify the situation,"
For Gaviani Ramirez, the welcome support has
not yet reached critical mass. Many
local people are still afraid to stick out their necks, he said. Ramirez
suspects his phone was tapped, and finds it curious that he could not post on
Ilse's Facebook for a week after her arrest. A quick review of recent events
quickly reveals why many might be reluctant to speak out against a situation
smacking of injustice.
Violent backdrop to the Feb. 12 arrests
If Luis and Ilse had lived in another place at
another time, it's unlikey they would be sitting in jail. But beautiful
Zihuatanejo, graced with breezy palms, spectacular sunsets, tantalizing
hummingbirds and some of the warmest souls on the planet, is also a highly
coveted piece of geography, a point of convergence where sea lanes funnel
cocaine, highways transport the products of clandestine synthetic drug labs and
roads winding down from the opium-rich Southern Sierra Madres deliver King
Heroin to the world beyond.
Nearby, the port of Lazaro Cardenas,
Michoacan, looms ever more important in the nexus of South
America-China-Mexico-U.S. commerce, while deposits of gold and silver are eyed
in the same mountains where plantings of opium poppies flourish. The illicit
drugs that head from the Costa Grande to the addict veins of the USA also
provide the scrapings of the bag for the narco-menudeo, or street level drug
market, in Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo.
In short, there's money to be made in this
burg. Not surprisingly, violence has flared over the golden goodies. In
February and March, accounts from the Mexican press and local residents
reported running gun battles between different organized crime groups, the
kidnapping of Guerrero Governor Hector Astudillo's representative in
Zihuatanejo, public executions, and the dumping of a body in front of city
The Guerrero daily El Sur reported at least 25
gangland-style homicides in the municipality from Jan. 1 to March 18.
Despite frequent patrols of heavily-armed soldiers, marines, state police and
municipal cops, law-breaking continues. Around town, a few banners demanding
"Peace with Order" are still on display from a business owners' one
day work stoppage last year.
Violence in Zihuatanejo and Guerrero has undermined
the possibility of social movements to freely act as well as the ability of
reporters to cover them. After a spate of gunplay the weekend of March 10-12,
supporters of Ilse and Luis cancelled a march they were contemplating for that
Sunday. According to Michell Quintana, the rising insecurity made it too risky
to stage a public demonstration.
Journalist Hercilia Castro, who's reported on
the region for La Jornada, Laplazadiario and other publications for many years,
says she's noticed a shift in the nature and tone of demonstrations, with less
people willing to identify themselves and more having to obtain the prior
"permission" of shadowy forces to express themselves in the streets.
"This speaks to the degree of
deterioration" Castro said. The Guerrero reporter also cited an instance
in which she was openly warned not to take photos in a town up the coast from
"How can I work as a journalist and not
take photos?" Castro questioned. "I felt bad."
In an extreme but far from singular example of
press suppression, Guerrero journalist Cecilio Pineda was murdered March 2 in
Ciudad Altamirano, a town on the other side of the Southern Sierra Madres from
Based in the narco-saturated Tierra Caliente,
Pineda was known for his drug-related stories and postings on Facebook. Almost
immediately prior to his murder, Pineda posted a video denouncing the probable
collision of police and politicians with a criminal outfit called Los
Pineda had suffered an attack in 2015 and was
assigned police protection for a time, but apparently decided to stay in Tierra
Caliente. Quoted in El Sur, Guerrero State Prosecutor Javier Olea stated that
Pineda was "definitely" murdered by organized crime. The
investigation of Pineda's murder has been assumed by the PGR, but no arrests
have been made until now. For the umpteenth time, reporters staged protests in
Zihuatanejo, Acapulco, Chilpancingo and Iguala.
According to Mexico's official National
Commission of Human Rights (CNDH), 122 journalists have been murdered in the
country since 2000. The latest victim was Ricardo Monlui Cabrera, gunned down
in front of his family March 19 in the southern state of Veracruz.
In a statement following Monlui's murder, the
CNDH reminded authorities of the human rights commission's earlier
recommendation that the government "create the necessary conditions so
journalists can do their work without being subjected to any type of
Impact on families
Both Quintana and Ramirez consider the
predicament of their siblings as part of the bigger picture in Mexico. The
jailing of Isle and Luis has emotionally, physically and economically devasted
two families, the siblings said.
Forced to spend time away from home, the
parents have lost work, relatives have suffered sickness and sleeplessness, and
costs for legal and living expenses (Ilse and Luis must pay for food and water
in jail) have piled up. Quintana said she is now
behind in her classes.
"It is hard for people like us with few
resources," the 20-year-old university student said. "(Officials) are
not only ruining (Luis and Ilses') lives, but those of the whole family."
Admitting he had been fatalistically resigned
about other causes before the detention of his sister and her boyfriend,
Ramirez said the incident has "opened my eyes" and forced him to take
"If we are in this situation, what awaits
the next generation?" he reflected. "Until it happens to you, you
don't know where you are at. We've had kidnappings, disappearances and
femicides...we supposedly live in a democracy. I have my rights. I demand that
the governor, the federal government get involved. We are citizens. Without us,
the politicians are nothing and we are nothing without them."
Quintana vowed the campaign to free and clear
Luis and Ilse would press forward even in adverse conditions. "We're
defending them and defending them and won't stop until it's shown they are
innocent and their names aren't smeared. (Officials) are
ruining their reputations," she charged.
Kent Paterson, a journalist-author, is an expert on border issues and Mexico. He is former editor of Frontera NorteSur.