He’s a star striker on the Greek soccer team Olympiacos, but he was partying at home in Mexico last Saturday night in his home state of Tamaulipas, and his home town, Ciudad Victoria, a couple of hundred miles south of Brownsville, Texas.
Alan Pulido, 25, is more than a local hero, and as such the former member of the Mexican national team may have felt secure when he and his girlfriend decided to leave the party. After all, they were surrounded by their closest friends and relatives.
But, in retrospect, they should have kept a couple of things in mind:
First of all, kidnapping has become a significant industry in Tamaulipas—more, by far, than in any other Mexican state. And while much of it is cartel related, much of it is related to… who knows? Anyone might feel he has a license to snatch.
Secondly, when crime is completely out of control, there’s nobody you can trust, including your relatives.
Other Mexican states, notably Guerrero and Morelos on the Pacific coast, are famous for murders. But Tamaulipas on the Gulf holds the record when it comes to ransoming likely targets. Those who track such things report the kidnap rate is four times higher in Tamaulipas than in Guerrero, scene of bloodbaths around Iguala, Acapulco, and what’s called Tierra Caliente.
A report by Mexico’s Citizens’ Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice a few weeks ago summed up the situation in Tamaulipas state like this:
“Persistent violence, high-impact crimes (kidnapping, extortion, homicides), roadblocks with the burning of vehicles, attacks against the general population, and confrontations with federal security forces by different groups of narco-cartels show that it’s the narcos who control a large part of the state.”
The core of the cartels’ territories, where the federales are trying to impose order, according to the Citizens’ Council, is along an axis from Matamoros to Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Victoria, which brings us back to soccer star Alan Pulido’s hometown, and that party he went to last Saturday night.
The Carretera Interejidal on the outskirts of Ciudad Victoria was never a very good road, but it’s now being widened and improved, so it’s worse. Pulido and his novia, Ileana Salas, probably were going slowly in his BMW to begin with when a group of armed men forced them to stop. They took Pulido, but let Salas go, and she ran to notify authorities.
The most detailed picture that’s emerged of what happened just then came from Alan’s older brother, Armando Pulido, another soccer player, talking to the broadcast outlet Grupo Imagen in an interview widely cited by the Mexican press.
“A friend told me Alan had called him but couldn’t talk with him because all you could hear was the screeching and noise of pickup trucks,” said Armando Pulido.
Then, a few hours later, Armando got a call:
“On Sunday they asked me on the phone to give them six million pesos [about $323,000] to ransom my brother,” he said in his recorded interview, “and I told them honestly that I couldn’t get that kind of money together in such a short time; I said it was impossible, but they insisted I could get the money by Monday morning, and if not, Alan would wake up dead.”
As we’ve learned since, it appears Alan Pulido was very much awake on Sunday night.
Probably he was unaware of the political storm brewing around his abduction. As the Mexican news magazine Proceso wrote, “Tamaulipas has been for years the best example of a narco-state Mexican-style: there are no borders between organized crime and government institutions. The police work for the cartels they’re fighting.”
Many in the national press speculated that this high-profile kidnapping might have something to do with the upcoming state and municipal elections. And during that first 24 hours after Alan Pulido was snatched, everybody seemed to be getting in on the blame game.
One gang that calls itself the Old School Zetas reportedly issued a statement on social media blaming the State Police for protecting members of the rival Cartel of the Northeast (CDN) who ostensibly carried out the kidnapping. Loosely translated, it read: “You fucking Troopers, everyone should know that yesterday in the kidnapping of the soccer player you covered the retreat of Tiki Tiki,” one of the leaders of the CDN in Nueva Victoria.
Meanwhile, in a middle-class house not far away, Pulido was sizing up the man police have since charged with the kidnapping, a heavy-set thug named Daniel Hernández Morales. What happened there is not entirely clear, but it seems Pulido was not tied up or locked away—or at least not very securely. When he saw his chance, he punched the hell out of Hernández Morales, or he may have used a blunt instrument. In any case, mug shots and pictures in the hospital taken later show the alleged kidnapper with a serious gash across his head.
Then Pulido reportedly broke out of the house and managed to call 066, the Mexican equivalent of 911, summoning authorities.
The next day, state prosecutor Ismael Quintanilla claimed the cops had rescued Pulido, but the more accurate story of his escape soon got out, and the immediate circumstances of his abduction began to come into focus as the prosecutor released more information.
The “intellectual author” of the crime was 29-year-old Osvaldo Velázquez García, according to the prosecutor. He is married to a cousin of Pulido’s, and is alleged to have passed on the information that Pulido was leaving the party in his BMW. Presumably investigators traced calls or text messages back to him, although they did not say that publicly.
When the federales showed up at Velázquez García’s door, he is alleged to have pulled a gun and opened fire. None of the federales was injured, but one of their bullets caught him in the shoulder and another grazed his neck.
So, is the case closed? Very likely it will be. A soccer star has been freed, a couple of low-lifes have been caught, but the kidnap business in Tamaulipas, “the best example of a narco-state Mexican-style,” is likely to go on and on.