Brutal conflict between myriad criminal organizations, self-defense groups, and police and military authorities have made Guerrero one of Mexico’s most violent states. Civilians often bear the brunt: many rural communities have been isolated by the violence, cutting their residents off from medical care and other essential services. In the Sierra Madre mountains, for example, many people have been trapped in their villages for months as a result of an ongoing rivalry between armed groups. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mobile clinics visit these besieged communities to provide much-needed medical and mental health care. Here, women from the region describe the situation in their own words.
“I was in the car with my husband, his cousins, and one of their wives,” says Gabriela, who lives in a village visited by the MSF mobile clinic. “We were driving down the mountain, on our way to a nearby city, when armed men in vans forced us to stop. They made the four men get out of the car and took them away. A man passing by later on a motorcycle helped us—the women—by taking us to the city, where we went to the police. The men were missing for five days. They found them later, by the side of the road, dead and buried.”
Gabriela is 20 years old and has two children. She was pregnant with her second when her husband was killed. Now, holding her weeks-old baby in her arms, she prefers not to give her real name and to keep her face hidden. She fears reprisals from the criminal group responsible for her husband’s death, as tensions are still high in the area.
“I thought our husbands were going to come back, that it had all been a mistake and that they would return them,” she says. “They were men who kept to themselves, working in the fields. When I found out my husband was dead, I went to live with my parents. I gave birth away from here with their help. I want to get out of here, to get away from this place where there is so much violence. I’ve thought of setting up a business, I’ve even thought of becoming a missionary, but I have small children. All my memories are here: of my childhood, my family, my husband.”
Gabriela says her eldest child, who is two years old, has stopped eating and walking since his father’s death. “Whenever a blue van drives by, he goes towards it, thinking it is his dad’s van,” she says. “We’ve spent six months without electricity after the armed group cut off the supply, unable to move, without access to medicines, unable to send our children to school. There are many innocent families living here.”
Sixty-year-old Ana has seen many of her neighbors flee, unable to keep living amid the violence. “We feel desolate, unable to work in peace because of fear,” she says. “We cannot go to the fields like we did before to see how the cows are doing and to help them give birth. Yesterday, a family left. They will sell their cows at any price and say goodbye; who knows if they will return? The teachers have not come back yet; we had kindergarten, primary, and secondary school. Now, there’s nothing. How long are we going to be like this? We don’t know. Until one of the two rival groups loses, I guess. We want a future for our children, for our grandchildren.”