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Tamaulipas: Mexico's forgotten hell on earth

Luis Cárdenas | Contributing Writer for El Universal
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María Icela's son was abducted on 3 different occasions and despite paying over a quarter million dollars, he was never heard from again.

Just a few years ago, María Icela Valdez was a small restaurant owner from Reynosa, Tamaulipas, who, thanks to her regular customers from the U.S. and locals, earned a decent living. Everything was going relatively well for her and her family, until two years ago when Los Metros, an offshoot of the incredibly violent Gulf Cartel, began charging her what they call in Mexico “rights of use” duties, which is basically a form of extortion that, if not paid, ends in gruesome consequences. At first, María Icela had to pay 1,000 pesos, but they forced her to pay more and more until, finally, she was paying 30,000 pesos per month, nearly 1,500 U.S. dollars. Everything she made eventually went to the cartel.

In addition to her “duties,” she had to pay her water and electric expenses directly to Los Metros. However, this implied paying a massive markup. Eventually, not paying up sent her life into a living hell.

Roberto, María Icela's son, was kidnapped even though she paid everything on time. The ransom was 5 million pesos, nearly 250,000 dollars, but she was only able to give them one million 800 thousand pesos, less than half of that they had asked for. They let him go on the condition that she didn't report the kidnap to the authorities, but just a few months later they kidnapped him again, and after she paid them nearly 15,000 dollars, they let him go. However, the third time he was kidnapped, he sadly was not released.

While at an ex-girlfriend's house, María Icela and Roberto were ambushed by Los Metros. Apparently, Roberto's ex-girlfriend turned them over to the cartel members. María Icela and Robert were forced onto a truck and taken to a ranch where they were then separated. They were both brutally beat and tortured. María Icela recalls feeling powerless and in sheer panic when she heard her son crying from a distance. Several of María Icela's teeth were shattered and one of her legs was damaged for life.

After 40 days, Los Metros agreed to let María Icela free so she could gather the money to rescue her son. They dumped her on the side of a road where, to her luck, a truck driver took her to the city and where she was then able to find a ride to Mexico City. Once there, she was refused treatment at a public hospital and the Federal Commission for Victims of Violence treated her even worse. The government agency owes her just 500 dollars that, despite having won a lawsuit against them, they still owe her to this day.

María Icela knew that they had murdered her son and she believes she found his remains in Reynosa after finding human fragments on her own without absolutely any help from authorities. According to María Icela, she's found an enormous amount of unidentified human remains in clandestine graves throughout the region that authorities attempt to sweep under the rug in order to disclose distorted figures on homicide rates that favor their reputation. She even claims she has all the evidence, testimonials and photographs to put behind bars those responsible for the death of her son and her own personal nightmare, but she's still waiting for justice.

María Icela is one voice, just one, of the hundreds of similar cases in Tamaulipas.

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