Thirty-three bullet holes in the roof and walls of a house in El Verano, a small, remote community in the mountains of Durango where a fugitive drug lord is believed hiding, are evidence of a gunfight. But no one’s admitting responsibility.
El Verano is one of several communities in the municipality of Tamazula where the hunt is on for Joaquín Guzmán, also known as El Chapo, notorious leader of the Sinaloa Cartel who made a daring jailbreak in July.
But residents claim they’ve been fired upon by the armed forces, which have been operating in the area for two weeks and at one point nearly captured the cartel leader but were repelled by heavy gunfire.
About 1,000 residents of communities in Tamazula have taken shelter in Cosalá, Sinaloa. Five of them agreed this week to return to El Verano with reporters and provide them with an all-terrain vehicle with which to explore the area.
The distance is only 50 kilometers but the going is rough. It took more than four hours to make the journey through the rugged terrain.
Once there, a resident showed the damage to her house. No one was hurt in the gunfire, but the 33 points of impact indicated that the fire came from above. It was two weeks ago today that an armed forces helicopter flew overhead while Marbella Valencia was in the house with her two-year-old child.
In the living area of the house were nine signs of impact by bullets; in the children’s bedroom there was one, in the parents’ bedroom there were 12. There were three more in the kitchen and another in the bathroom, while walls at the rear of the house showed another seven, for a total of 33.
But officials with the Navy emphatically denied responsibility for the shootings, suggesting instead that local residents working for the Sinaloa Cartel had fired the shots in order to discredit the military and force an end to the pursuit of Guzmán.
During their visit to El Verano, reporters also found a dozen spent cartridges from high-caliber weapons in a school from which it would have been possible to fire on homes in the village.
Neighbors insisted the cartridges were not theirs, but likely left by five marines who had rappelled to the building from a helicopter.
National and state human rights commissions will be investigating the case, but it won’t be the first time they’ve paid a visit to the region. Investigators were in Tamazula last June to look into charges by residents that they had been fired on.
Two people were killed in the gunfire, allegedly carried out by marines in helicopters. The Navy said the victims were members of a criminal gang.