By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
* * *
In the old, faded photograph, Miguel the son is 2 years old and sits at the keyboard of a telex wire machine in the newspaper office in Veracruz.
Milo Vela spent most of his career at Notiver, the daily paper of the port city of Veracruz. He covered crime, became a columnist and edited the police section. He taught his sons to not believe in political parties, since they all lied and were corrupt. He taught his sons that news was a calling. Sometimes, Miguel and his father would simply sit in a car outside the Red Cross center, waiting for an accident to be called in. They were newsmen.
* * *
Ever since I was a child, I remember that my father worked all day for the newspaper, Notiver. I only saw him sleeping while I was getting ready to go to school in the mornings because by the time I got home from school, it would be the next morning before I would see him again in bed. . . . I got to know his co-workers—among them, Yolanda Ordaz [de la Cruz], who covered the police beat. Nothing kept any of them from covering any kind of news. I remember once in the 1980s, Yolanda and my father were beaten up by federal police when they went to cover an intensive operation carried out in the area near the port—apparently something to do with securing a shipment of weapons.
* * *
In 2007, a severed head is delivered to a corner near the newspaper offices. Then a video appears on YouTube claiming that Milo Vela, his reporting partner, Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz—called the "fat black woman" in the video—and the son Miguel Angel take money from the criminal group called Los Zetas and go to parties with them. Everyone but the father flees the city of Veracruz temporarily.
The family home is brick, two stories and modern, with lots of windows, two blocks from the police station. Miguel's brother Misael, 21, lives at home and works as a photographer at Notiver. Miguel lives 10 minutes away and is also a photographer for the paper. They are given to family dinners and celebrations. On June 19, 2011, Miguel and Vanessa attend a Father's Day dinner and eat salpicón made with crab and a seafood stew.
There had been signs of trouble before the dinner. Something was bothering his father, but Miguel knew better than to ask. A week before, at the funeral for an uncle, he mentioned to his father the attack against another reporter.
His father said, "Don't worry."
Miguel noticed that for the past month, his father had begun calling him early each morning and again in the evening to make sure he was okay. A few days before the dinner, his father had a loud argument with the nephew of the governor over his paper's stories, and the morning after Father's Day, he had a column coming out that questioned the reputation of two candidates for chief of traffic police in Veracruz.
* * *
During his first term at Notiver in the 1980s, Milo Vela was attacked on his way home to sleep. I don't remember the date, but I do recall that his car was shot full of bullet holes. . . . I remember asking him once about what had happened and he didn't tell me much. "Well, I was driving down the Morelos bridge and passing the factory when these dark guys pulled out like 'bats out of hell (hechos la madre)' and I realized they were chasing me, so I sped up, but I saw they were going to catch up with me so I pulled over and jumped out of the car and ran toward the beach. . . ." This is all he told me, but then he turned around and said, "But, Miguel, this is all over now."
The call comes at 6 a.m. from a fellow photographer at the paper, Gabriel Huge, a man who survived a bad accident and rides a scooter to crime scenes and walks with a cane. He is also a man who does not back down: Miguel has photographs of a swarm of federal police in flak jackets surrounding him for taking pictures without their permission. In the images, his face looks fierce and empty of fear.
Gabriel says, "You need to come to the house. Something has happened."
When he arrives, the city police have taped off the residence.
Gabriel says, "They have killed your father, mother and brother."
Miguel walks up the stairs to the second floor. His mother is outside the door of the bedroom, face-down in a pool of blood. His father is propped in a sitting position on the bed, his face destroyed by bullets. Down the hall, Misael, known as el gordo in the family because of his weight, is face-down in blood. He is wearing yellow shorts his mother had made for him because it was hard to find clothes in his size. He has three rounds in the back of his neck and head. Miguel thinks of all the times he has come here early in the morning or late at night and tiptoed down the hall lest he wake anyone. He goes back into his parents' room, sits down in front of their bodies and says goodbye. He is weeping now.