As we read last week, Guadalupe was once a peaceful town in the metropolitan area of Monterrey, Nuevo León state. Early in the 21st century, violent gangs and two drug cartels, the Zetas and Cártel del Golfo, rose to prominence, plunging the town into chaos and violence. The police force, heavily infiltrated by the cartels, quickly became as dangerous of a threat to the people as the criminals.
In April 2011, Mayor Ivonne Álvarez García contracted retired Army Colonel, Enrique Sanmiguel Sánchez, to help restore order to the city. With the help of three of his own men, ex-military, he cleared the police force of almost 900 corrupt men, leaving only 40 officers to police the violent streets. Even with the addition of 300 new recruits a year later, they were hard-pressed to meet the demands of the city of Guadalupe. In the midst of this seemingly impossible struggle, a group of pastors arrived to pray. Through these prayers, God raised up a shield of protection.
The new militarized police began their offense against crime with an attack on the Los Zetas cartel in Guadalupe, provoking a fierce response. In the following seven months, armed gangs killed 13 officials and destroyed dozens of police cars. Santos, the new Chief of Police, survived three ambushes, during which his armored vehicle was peppered with bullets. “There were very few of us and we weren’t even armed because the State wouldn’t allow it due to mistrust of the police,” he added. “Fortunately, things were changing, and with the help of the pastors, the people of Guadalupe started to see that we were not part of the problem but the solution.” The pastors didn’t just help to make the police officials aware of the needs of the citizens.,The pastors also gave courses funded by the Labor Secretary about how to treat citizens, how the Bible interprets theft, and what God thinks when someone takes something that does not belong to them.
The police started to visit the communities in order to speak to residents and business owners to find out what their needs were. Both Sanmiguel and Santos assured the Guadeloupians that they no longer needed to fear the police officers, and that the cleansing process had successfully removed the pollution from the department. Despite the danger in patrolling the streets, Sanmiguel accompanied his agents to inspect the work of the new police officers. The masks that were previously used to hide the identities of officials during operations were now banned. He who is on the right side of the law does not have reason to cover his face.
Following a powerful campaign against Los Zetas, Sanmiguel and his officers considerably reduced the presence of armed groups in the town. Little-by-little, the peace that the town of Guadalupe had once enjoyed was restored. The violence and presence of members of organized crime in the streets dropped dramatically. Guadalupe experienced an unquestionable transformation, going from ranking first on the list of the most violent places in Mexico to occupying last place out of twelve towns in 2015, according to the Citizen Observatory program in Nuevo León. And Nuevo León has also fallen from occupying one of the top spots on the list of most violent states in the Mexican Republic, according to Patricia de Obeso from the Institute for Economy and Peace (IEP). “In general terms, positive peace is stronger in Nuevo León than in all of Mexico put together, which suggests that the state is capable of reducing direct violence.”
And Sanmiguel’s work has gone beyond Mexico’s borders, serving as a model internationally. Joselo Gloria, the son of Protestant pastors and a witness of the whole process, made a documentary that has also been spread around the globe. “[Now] it seemed like the whole world wanted to know how we had managed it.” In addition to the media recognition, Guadalupe also received special attention from International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organization dedicated to the resolution and prevention of armed conflicts around the world.
Since June 2016, both Sanmiguel and Santos have found themselves in the town of General Terán—also in Nuevo León—where they have already started talking with the community about human rights. “It is a small town of 15,000 people, but we are still fulfilling our task,” explained Santos. “The important thing is that we are working with eight Protestant pastors who have offered their collaboration. The problems here are different, much less violent, but we will give them the same attention.” The legacy of these ex-military personnel is much more than an anecdote today, according to Santos. “We have heard that the process has been replicated in the states of Hidalgo, Baja California, Mexico and Ciudad Victoria,” he said. “I can’t tell you whether they have been successful or not, because that depends on the agreement between each of the agents and the political authorities. Without values, nobody can triumph.”
Father, thank You for the work of the pastors who have been such an integral part of the work of restoring order to the city of Guadalupe. We pray for this work to continue in other areas and for the spread of Your gospel to redeem lives and bring about peace and stability in the cities of Mexico. As Sanmiguel and Santos work now in General Terán, we pray for pastors to step up and work alongside them, praying and working toward godly ways of governing in their community. May it be clear that it is You who have done it and may the name of Jesus Christ be praised in the nation of Mexico. It is the name of Jesus we lift up today and in His name we pray. Amen.