Mario Guillermo Huacuja
I met Eduardo Gallo in a café in the Perisur shopping mall in Mexico City. I recognized his face because I had seen his photograph in one of the daily newspapers. He was a middle-aged man with a fair complexion and jet black hair, a thick beard and the look of an eagle. He was alone, drinking a coffee like anybody out for a stroll amid the stores and movie theatres.
I went up to him at once. I introduced myself abruptly. “You’re Eduardo Gallo; I want to write something about what you’ve done.” He offered me a chair. We exchanged a few words. He gave me his phone number. I bid him farewell with the promise that one day I would write a few lines telling his dramatic story.
Now, thanks to the Diálogos bilingual magazine, I can fulfill my promise.
Eduardo Gallo’s life as an ordinary citizen ended violently on the 9th of July in the year 2000. On that fateful day, one like any other for many gangs of delinquents operating in central Mexico, his daughter was kidnapped from a house in Tepoztlán, about 90 minutes south of Mexico City. On that date, Paola Gallo was 25 years old. She was a highly intelligent young woman, given to engaging in debates on the behaviour of the bands of criminals that terrorize our country. She had just completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
As is the case with any kidnapping, the thugs demanded a hefty ransom for the girl’s safe return. Her desperate father met with members of Mexico’s Federal Preventive Police to discuss the nature of the rescue mission, and put together the money that the kidnappers had demanded. A few days later, on the day agreed for the delivery of the ransom, the life of the Gallo family took another fatal turn. In an event that has still not been fully cleared up, an unidentified group opened fire on the kidnappers, killing three of them. Curiously, the ransom money was left beside the corpses.
In reprisal for what appeared to be an ambush, the kidnappers murdered Paola Gallo. Her father, Eduardo, was devastated.
In that moment, the first thing that crossed his mind was the desire for revenge. Understandable. His pain was so great that the only thing he wanted was to confront her killer and tear him to pieces. Nevertheless, he turned to the authorities to track the murderer down. But the authorities kept mum. The Attorney General of the State of Morelos never responded to his petition. The police treated the case as one among many, all of them much the same in terms of brutality. Days passed, then months, and all that remained of Paola was her heartbreaking memory.
After much deliberation, Eduardo Gallo initiated his own investigation to find the person responsible for his daughter’s death. It was a mission that seemed impossible, as he had no experience in such activities. He was a public accountant. He ran a consulting firm for hotels. He had studied law, but his experience as a criminal investigator was absolutely nil. Nevertheless, with an unswerving determination and considerable perseverance, he pursued the case. His starting point was the declaration of one of the captured gang members following the shooting (on the day the ransom was delivered), who had identified Paola’s murderer as “Apache Two”.
For more than eleven months, Eduardo Gallo worked tirelessly, investigating every kidnapping in the town of Tepoztlán, to gather useful information. He interviewed local residents, the squatters on the public land nearby, and other kidnap victims. He gathered data about the ages of the kidnappers, their manner of dress, the personal connections between them. He left his work in the consulting firm. He lived off his savings, utterly committed to his private investigation. He never took a day off. He had many sleepless nights.
Finally, after a titanic and meticulous investigation, he identified Paola’s murderer. His name: Francisco Zamora Arellano, a killer born in the State of Guerrero who operated in Morelos and was hiding out in the town of Tultitlán in the State of Mexico.
The remarkable part of this story is that Eduardo Gallo did not take justice into his own hands. He did not resort to revenge. On the day of the capture, he made the police officer who had refused to help him go with him to apprehend the killer. He saw the killer before him, and simply watched as he was arrested and sentenced to imprisonment.
“Paola asked me to seek justice,” he said later, “not revenge.”
The behaviour of Eduardo Gallo in Mexico –and in many other countries – is utterly extraordinary. Consider a country like Canada, for example, where the behaviour of the public in the face of a crime follows a particular pattern. In the face of a murder, however outrageous it might be, the public expect that justice will be done; indeed, they’re used to it being done. In Mexico, on the other hand, the law is dysfunctional. As is the police force. There are many murders, their motives many and varied, and the responses to them vary according to the circumstances and the personalities of the victims. The settling of accounts among drug barons, for example, has become habitual in many cities, to the point where the government has declared war on the gangs. But there is no end to the furious torrent of murders. And in this context, revenge is an unbreakable spiral.
Accidental murders and abhorrent sexual violence are dealt with differently. In these cases, the residents of the barrios favour lynching as the most effective means of compensating for the damage done to the community. There have been several cases of bus drivers seeking protection from the police after hitting a pedestrian, while the excitable residents stoke the bonfires to burn them alive. The same is the case with rapists and paedophiles. The mobs have come to expect to be able to raise their own gallows.
In the face of the wave of kidnappings that has rocked the country in recent years, the public is virtually defenceless. Anybody could be kidnapped for an hour, a day, a month, or possibly longer. The sums of the ransoms vary widely, ranging from five thousand pesos (about five hundred dollars) to several million. Although there are no reliable statistics, it is certain that two out of every ten Mexico City residents have suffered a mugging, kidnapping or robbery, or have a family member who has suffered one. And in these cases, the culprits generally go unpunished, in many cases because police officers are associated with the criminal gangs responsible. In some cases, the kidnappers are police officers themselves. So how can we turn to the police, knowing that they may be accomplices to the crime?
Eduardo Gallo replies that not to report a crime is effectively aiding the criminal. And he is right, without doubt. It sounds harsh, but he asserts that all victims who fail to report a crime committed against them have supported not only the impunity of the humiliation they have suffered, but have also aided and abetted in Paola’s murder.
After the crime committed against his daughter, Eduardo Gallo is not who he used to be. He is a man carrying a grief without remedy. But he is also the seed of a different kind of Mexican: a citizen who believes in justice above all, and who defines the application of the law as the best formula for the rise of a true civil society. With his extraordinary deed, Eduardo Gallo became a citizen who wants to put an end to a society infested with victims and criminals, with a justice system rotten at the core and with the proliferation of anonymous groups who behave like revenge-hungry mobs.
It is our misfortune that Eduardo Gallo has no pedestal nor statue, nor any memorial that records his act in the history books, nor any reminder that encourages us daily to follow his example.
Mario Guillermo Huacuja was born in Mexico City in 1950. He has worked as a university professor, novelist, radio announcer, script writer, television producer, magazine editor and civil servant. He is currently Director of Communications with the Mexican Institute of Natural Renewable Resources.
Translated by Martin Boyd