Good Folk (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This Malayerba column was published in RíoDoce on 13 July 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Good Folk
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

They were a close-knit gang of four. They had grown up on the same block and frequented the same spots in the barrio: the basketball court, the street corners, the grocery stores, their neighbors’ patios and the schools on the outskirts. They began to fight about girls, but not seriously – they never came to blows. They traded insults — didn’t speak for two weeks — but then they made up, and carried on just like before.

They’d hardly finished high school. The four companions agreed that they weren’t good at studying. But in the city, work and good pay were hard to find. The drug dealers started sniffing them out: looking at them from afar. They didn’t like them. They didn’t want to get close to them. But that was before tortillas and chicken were in short supply at home.

Freaking misery sucks, dude. Screwed up and bogus. Everything’s whack, said the other. Whattup, are we in or not? They knew that being a scoundrel wasn’t right: several crosses on the sidewalks for guys killed in gunfire, sliced up with an Uzi, bleeding out in less than a breath. It sucks, yeah, but hunger’s worse. My mom didn’t have enough for eggs yesterday, y’know.

They looked for the hit men’s boss. He’d seen them grow up on the block so he didn’t need assurance: he took them on and he put them on the payroll. First as scouts, on the look out. In a few he weeks he told them: go get this guy. He gave them each a piece and he told them where to take him. A few days later they prowled around torturing and killing. They chucked the bloodied clothing and started buying Pavi and Hollister. Their sneakers weren’t patched any more, didn’t have holes, and they bought tortillas with cheese and chicken, meat to grill, and shrimp for aguachile.

They killed four, seven, ten. Always together, always on the basketball courts, always with the boys in the barrio. That’s how they did it: taking care, informing about strange movements, picking off the bastards, putting them down and out, quickly – unless they were asked to torture them for information or out of revenge for a betrayal, a robbery or a debt. In a few months, they got tired and frightened. That’s enough. Better that we stop here because otherwise they will come for us. That’s how they did it.

They began to paint houses. They took jobs helping contractors on good-sized jobs or as market fetchers. Together, always together. One night they went for beer. They saw some of the gang pulling on an old man to beat him up. One of them wanted to help the old timer but they shouted at him to screw himself. Put two bullets in his belly. The other three phoned the barrio’s hit men and since they knew them, they could identify them. The assailants turned up dead.

The one with bullets in his belly got better. When he saw the other three he decided to return to the site of the slaughter: that’s screwed up, said the one who’d recovered, now I can’t be good folk.

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is the founding editor of RíoDoce, an online news outlet based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is the author of various books, including Con la Granada en la Boca (Aguilar, 2014). This column was first published under the title, “Gente de Bien,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/gente-de-bien.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

 

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The Ranch of Horror (Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.Expediente.Mx)

This crónica was first published on Blog.Expediente.Mx on 19 June 2014 and has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Keys of the Murdered and the Missing of El Diamante, Tres Valles, Veracruz. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Keys of the Murdered and the Missing of El Diamante, Tres Valles, Veracruz. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Ranch of Horror
By Ignacio Carvajal (Blog.Expediente.Mx)

Tres Valles, Veracruz.- “Can you take us to the graves at El Diamante, please?” somebody asks an official from Tres Valles township. Until that question, the bureaucrat had been welcoming, good-humored even; but on hearing where they wanted to go, his face reddened. He looked around from place to place. His chin trembled. He did go there, but reluctantly and at the first opportunity he fled – full throttle, ignoring speed bumps, puddles, and potholes.

The entrance to El Diamante is the opening to Eden. At the end of the meadow on this ranch, once the property of the late Fernando Cano Cano, first mayor of Tres Valles, trees are laden with fruit, a fish farm to one side. Pastures spring up at the corners to the property. A river runs through it.

It’s a golden dream for any farmer. But for the thirty-one people who were murdered and buried here, it’s where they went from paradise to hell.

After three months, last Monday night Navy personnel finally acknowledged it as a burial site. Nobody could have imagined that, under leafy trees on one side of a ravine hid horror: death, suffering, and shame half-covered by soil.

A smell hovers over the site. Green flies swarm around rotting flesh, crawling with maggots. There are thirteen holes. From each one they have exhumed two or three people. The investigators left a short time ago. They worked with nothing. Help came from soldiers stationed in Xalapa and Veracruz.

One person who was there, and whose identity is being protected, says that the investigating agents couldn’t cope. After hours of digging and removing rotten flesh, exhaustion overwhelmed them.  Officers from the Veracruz Investigations Division (AVI) had to lend a hand, putting their firearms to one side to pull on rope to extract the dead. “The exhumed bodies were tied up. It was complicated because they didn’t have hands or feet. Sometimes we had to help.”

“We tired from pulling up so many bodies. There was this moment when we had to shovel and blood and rotting stuff came out,” the official said.

 

OFFERINGS TO THE SKINNY WOMAN

Dirty dishes. Leftover food. Smelly mats. Damp towels. Pirated CDs. Dirty clothes scattered all over. Medicine. A shrine to the Santa Muerte. Black candles. The Seven Powers of Santería.  A toilet overflowing with crap.

It’s the inside of the house located on the rise of the El Diamante ranch. In this place, about two kilometers from the police station and town hall of Tres Valles, twenty-four men and seven women were murdered. How was it possible to massacre so many people so near to the police station?

Until a few days ago the inhabitants were a group of hitmen. They got into the ranch through a breach that runs from the city, along railway tracks, through groves of trees and a red clay trail.

Inside the building, what causes most fear is the image of the Santa Muerte.  It’s clearly a copy of Michelangelo’s Pietà, with Christ lying at the feet of the skinny woman.

The thirty-centimeter image is mounted on a box with a twenty-liter capacity. Around it are more than a dozen candles of the Seven Powers of Santería: Obatalá, Elegguá, Oggún, Orunlá, Yemayá, and Ochún.

More candles are placed inside the dwelling. They could be more than forty, or thirty-one. Perhaps the same number of victims buried in the clandestine cemetery.

Still inside, one finds chile, tomatoes, a frying pan filled with potatoes and sausage and on a chair, a saucepan filled with potatoes. They were about to eat. At present, the scant unofficial information provided by military sources doesn’t mention detainees, pointing to a timely escape.

The mats – from the National System for Overall Family Development (DIF) – stand out, strewn all over. It’s a mess left behind by officials who didn’t pay attention to a single detail: dozens of keys left behind beside the well – keys to houses, cars, drawers, and boxes. Keys that once belonged to the people dragged here and murdered.

 

POSSESSED

El Diamante is a watchtower: from its rise there’s a view of Tres Valles, and on the other side a meadow sown with fine, nourishing pasture. A sonorous ravine nearby snakes below the ranch, shaded by fruit trees.

Police reports call it an “abandoned ranch.” But its infrastructure looks in good shape.

In the town they confirm that it belonged to the late Fernando Cano Cano, a member of the Party of Institutional Revolution (PRI) and the first mayor of Tres Valles. Nobody can say how a group of murderers and death fanatics took over the ranch.

The difference between the last tenants and the owners is clear: they were very religious. In a corner, there’s a chapel to the Virgin of Juquila.

The Chapel to the Virgin of Juquila at El Diamante (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

The Chapel to the Virgin of Juquila at El Diamante (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Inside the three-by-three chapel, with an altar in the middle, and cubbyholes in its walls, are mats, used condoms, excrement. There are signs of frantic sex, wild nights, alcohol, torture, and decapitation.

The thugs used this place for everything but praying to Christ’s mother. Her images are no longer in the cubbyholes: they have been destroyed.

In the chapel, they didn’t leave flowers or candles to the Virgin. But they left bottles of whisky and a bag of bread rolls to Death. An offering.

 

HOPE LIVES ON

The smell of death rattles the nerves of all of Cosamaloapan and its neighboring villages. “I had to wash my clothes again because I’d hung them out to dry the day the bodies arrived. But the smell penetrated everything and it stinks,” relates one of the people who lives by the morgue here in Cosamaloapan.

The smell lingers in the air and pervades all of Cosamaloapan, penetrates the poorest neighborhoods, the low-income areas where there are the most cases of missing people.

“We came here from Xalapa [the state capital, 300 kilometers away], because we knew there were a bunch of dead people here and in our neighborhood four boys are missing. A truck blocked their path and took them,” says a woman, who along with the others, seems not to be made sick by the smell or the heat.

They are wives, mothers, aunts, grandparents or partners of disappeared people. For them, Cosamaloapan and the neighboring towns amount to a badly healed wound bursting with pus. They are desperate.

“Sometimes I just want to find her and be done with it. Tell me if she’s dead or whatever,” says one woman, whose daughter, Wendy Cruz, has been missing since May.

Her granddaughter, Wendy’s daughter, holds a photo of her mother: dressed in a red blouse and tight white pants. Just beside the Papaloapan River. The last time they saw her she was going to Alvarado to eat with a friend.

Wendy Cruz. Last Seen went she went to Alvarado for a meal with a friend. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Wendy Cruz. Last Seen when she went to Alvarado for a meal with a friend. (Photo Credit: Ignacio Carvajal, Blog.expediente.mx)

Another family of women and children seeks shade under a fig tree. The oldest carries a photo of her sixteen-year old grandson who went to a party in Tuxtepec two weeks ago and never returned.

“They treated us very badly inside. We aren’t from here. We came from Oaxaca. Inside the morgue they told us we should deal with things in Oaxaca. They say there aren’t any bodies here. That they took them all to Xalapa,” says one of the women.

At some moment in the afternoon they could not wait any longer. They were huddled around the entryway where at least two stood waiting. They approached the slabs. They raised the sheet from one corpse and confirmed that it wasn’t their relative. They entered with fortitude. They left alone.

 

JOINED TOGETHER IN PAIN

On the Cosamaloapan-Acayucan highway, two hundred kilometers from the graves, a man enjoys some pineapple juice, happily looking at the cargo on his truck: twenty coffins.

The man has been informed about the region’s toughest news. “Clandestine Graves at El Diamante in Tres Valles.” Rather than being afraid, the funeral director in Cuenca del Papaloapan seems energized. He begins making calls to all his contacts, mostly those at the morgue, whom he rewards if they pass on the news to him first. He knows that the cargo he’s bringing from the Federal District won’t be of any use if he doesn’t hurry up and do the paperwork at Cosamaloapan’s deputy prosecutor’s office. “I don’t think they are going to be enough. We are going to have to ask for more,” said the driver.

Journalist Ignacio Carvajal reports from Veracruz. Follow him @nachopallaypaca on Twitter. This article was first published under the title, “El rancho del horror,” at blog.expediente.mx available at: http://blog.expediente.mx/nota.php?nId=6974#.U7NQUI1dVjY.

 

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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Urban Muralists Treat City as Canvas (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This article was first published in RíoDoce on 22 June 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Urban Muralists Treat City as Canvas
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

Yeye

Yeye, Murdered First Aid Worker

The walls speak. They shout.

The strokes, the colors, the silhouettes on the outsides of the old houses, low joists, on the fences of abandoned properties: they catch eyes, trap stares, and when the observer stops a moment, stays in front of the graffiti, the stencil, the aerosol, the acrylic, there are reflections and conversations, dreams and feelings.

Fingerprints of the new and old asphalt artists touch Andrade or Obregón avenues, the walls of the new promenade, historic downtown’s old buildings, the city’s police boxes, and Buelna or Rosales streets. They mark space, express their own resistance or that of those they represent, criticize, protest, and leave their mark.

Doctor Feis is one of these rebels. He seems to antagonize the untouched walls and the plain whites of some façades. On one wall he painted the face of Genoveva Rogers, nicknamed Yeye, the paramedic killed by gunshots when armed men ran after a man – he fled into the Red Cross – and a bullet killed the young woman.

Her face was painted on the wall of an abandoned police box, rescued by youth movement Recuperarte in the 10 de Mayo neighborhood. They are spray can murals and Doctor Feis has exhibited his work in states like Oaxaca, Baja California, Mexico City, Puebla, Querétaro, and Baja California Sur.

“To paint walls was mere fancy, custom. But then it became a hobby, and now it’s become a way for me to express myself,” says the 26-year old youth, originally from the capital city of Culiacán, a graduate of the Autonomous University of Sinaloa’s art school.

On Andrade Avenue, between Ángel Flores and Rosales Streets, on the so-called Paseo del Ángel he painted the face of Sandra Luz Hernández, the activist shot to death in May while looking for her son Edgar Guadalupe, missing since February 2012.

In Yeye’s case, he did it out of friendship. He knew her family. It was a way to keep her memory alive and celebrate the arc of her life. But Sandra Luz’s murder pained him: the impunity, the violence that has smothered and stuck to Sinaloa’s society, where silence, surrender, and indifference rule in the empire of bad things, where people order killings and put their fingers on the trigger, ready to shoot.

Doctor Feis explains that he first painted commonplaces, but now he wants to express social concerns, nourishing collective memory: the deaths of three musician friends in Lomas del Bulevar, the disappearance and murder of one more friend in La Primavera – these are facts that mark his outlines, the colors, the blood, and the anger – of his street murals.

“There, on the walls, it’s transcendent. It stays. In newspapers, it’s a momentary thing. Like what happened to Genoveva, then with Sandra Luz. Things happen and everybody forgets. You can play protest songs in the Cathedral every day, but the song sticks with you after it is played. The mural remains. That’s why I put one on the Paseo del Ángel, a place of entertainment, so that it disrupts things, generates something,” he says.

Sandra Luz

Sandra Luz, murdered activist

Wrong Steps

Early in the morning, while the city sleeps and the patrol cars howl and luxury trucks whine, the wall warriors take to the shadows to write the city’s history – its disasters and dreams – on a canvas of brick, limestone, and cement. The Watchavato, maybe the most famous artist of Culiacán’s tarmac, paints with a stencil technique, signing like a dog pissing on posts and corners.

One of those giant dollars was placed on Obregón and Madero a few weeks ago: “Infinite thanks” read the sign, and in its center, an effigy of Jesús Malverde. A few days later, in a spunky show of censorship, city police destroyed the paper sculpture. Now you can just see its disfigured remains.

There, on walls shrouded in darkness, brushes shout, spray cans swear, ink cries, dripping down walls that are overcome by time, limestone and dust. Hooded they come brandishing their hardware, then the officers in their patrol cars, some more than others up early, drunk, drifters. Nothing’s going on, we are working, they respond and don’t want to be provoked or challenged. Occasionally they work in groups, bring cameras and lights to see or to improve the looks of the blows and paint strokes. Like cats in heat, some work alone: caterwauling over the fence, a wall, a cement canvas, making the city shout what its citizens have shut up about and what the government covers up.

Shouts. A cement canvas so the city can shout what the government covers up.

Shouts. A cement canvas so the city can shout what the government covers up.

To Resist
He calls himself Diske One. That’s his name. From Culiacán, 24 years old, time spent living with the mountain folk of Sinaloa and Durango. Down and out, nothing more, among the Huicholes and Tepehuanes, Mayos and Yoremes, documenting them, learning from them, understanding them, embracing that life, why they do things, their long-term marginalization.

One of his works, maybe his most imposing and unsettling, is on Rafael Buelna Street in front of the Sinaloan Art Museum (Masin): it’s of a red Huichol, decked out, deer head, spilled paint, playing a violin on his left shoulder, on a scarred canvas, bare bricks, half-eaten walls, hands up in surrender.

He says that as a child the panhandlers frightened him. That fear stayed with him through his teenage years and as a challenge his father used to hand him coins to give to the indigenous people and beggars. When they saw he had money, they danced for him. Now he doesn’t fear them, he admires them. He paints them, follows their struggle and their marches, and does the same with the Huicholes and other indigenous communities.

“Each time I finish painting them, I’m still busy. There’s so much about them to paint: like the fight of the Huicholes in Wirikuta, where they want to build a mine that the indigenous people oppose. They won’t be able to do that to them. They are very unified, not like us. They have power, beliefs. They resist and say, ‘go fuck yourselves.’ That’s what I am telling people with my work: they resist, they exist, they are here,” he says.

This type of expressions on the city’s walls, he adds, represents a cry of criticism, or protest, of social and collective reflection, about what’s happening in Sinaloa and the rest of the country.

“Artists have a social commitment to the people’s problems, their hopes and dreams, their needs and worries. We have to renew ourselves, too. To look for new ways forms of expression, to find new techniques and themes, to keep on creating,” he emphasized.

In Culiacán’s different corners are at least five of his works, all some sort of mural, using a spray can and acrylic paint. They express the destruction of the environment, indigenous people that fight against marginalization and injustice, to keep on going and resist.

And maybe with these lines, colors, and silhouettes they will stop the fences from being quiet, the city from staying silent, and crumbling.

Huichol

Huichol

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is the founding editor of RíoDoce, an online news outlet based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is the author of various books, including Con la Granada en la Boca (Aguilar, 2014). This article was first published under the title, “Toman muralistas urbano ciudad como lienzo,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/toman-muralistas-urbanos-la-ciudad-como-lienzo.

 

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

 

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St. Jude the Apostle (Javier Valdez Cárdenas, RíoDoce)

This Malayerba column was published in RíoDoce on 15 June 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator’s Note: This column contains strong, some might say foul, language. PT

 

St. Jude the Apostle

St. Jude the Apostle — A Recent Portrait

 

St. Jude the Apostle
By Javier Valdez Cárdenas (RíoDoce)

Get down. I will kill you if you turn around and look at me, motherfucker. Get down and don’t move. Now you are screwed, asshole. You are fucked. You’ll see what happens when you don’t pay. For going around and asking, asking, asking for money. Now you are going to pay because you are going to pay. You are going to pay, asshole. With your life.

Click. The man loaded a clip. There were three of them. One of them had him face down, black boots in his back, pressing on him, kicking him. It was seven in the morning when he left his house to walk in the park. They were on top of him in a blink of an eye and now he was face down, headed to who knows where.

Sweat. More sweat. On the car floor, with ears stuck to the dirty carpet, he seemed to hear the rocks and the tarmac. They are going to kill me. He knew it when the car began to bounce: they were going over dirt. We are going up the mountain. Hey you bastard, your time has come. His t-shirt was soaked and he hadn’t even been able to take his morning walk.

They are going to kill me. Now he wasn’t Fernando, Alonso, or César. He was just a hulk, a sack of potatoes. For these gunslingers he was just an object. A dead dog that was suffering because it knew it was going to be put down. He ignored what they were talking about and what they wanted. He thought that maybe there was some confusion but he changed his mind when they mentioned the man who wanted him taken: you are that guy, you live here, your wife’s name is ….

He shat himself. They pulled him out by his hair. They winded him by kicking him in the stomach. He thought they were going after his jaw or breaking three ribs. Click. He heard as an echo what he was seeing. He felt the gun barrel over his neck. Fuck. They are going to kill me. One of the killers told the man with the gun that they should get further away; otherwise they were going to get spattered.

That’s what was going on when the phone rang. It was their leader. Eight hundred thousand pesos. Eight hundred thousands pesos, but right now, asshole. Or you are going to get fucked. We are going to cut you down. They came to an agreement. He asked for the phone so he could speak with the manager of his business and with his wife. He told them to give them what they want. Give them everything. Everything they ask for. If you don’t give it to them, they will put me in the ground.

They wrote checks. They got the cash together. They sold this and that. A half hour later and nothing. The cell phone rang again. The guy who answered it said it was the boss. Eight seconds of talk. Okay. We are going to let him going. They are bringing the money. You saved yourself, asshole. You saved yourself and we are going to leave you alone.

Face down again. Drooling on the dirty carpet. Sweating the sweat of four days’ walk. They got to the city. Suddenly they stopped. Get out. Don’t look back and don’t look at the plates. A kick. He fell on the ground. You did it, shouted the one who drove. Now go and pray to St. Judas, asshole. And they left.

Journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas is the founding editor of RíoDoce, an online news outlet based in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He is the author of various books, including Con la Granada en la Boca (Aguilar, 2014). This column was first published under the title, “San Judas Tadeo,” and is available at: http://riodoce.mx/noticias/columnas/malayerba/san-judas-tadeo/.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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Torture in Mexico: Human Rights Organization Takes On Another Four Torture Cases from Ciudad Juárez (Martín Orquiz, El Diario de Ciudad Juárez)

This article was first published in El Diario de Ciudad Juárez on 10 June 2014. It has been published without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Translator´s Note: The MxJTP is committed to translating articles about torture in Mexico. Along with the four new cases the subject of this article, the El Diario de Juárez also makes reference to the torture of the five people once accused of the 2010 car bomb in Ciudad Juárez. After more than three years in prison, those five torture victims were released in March 2014 – after they were released they interviewed about their experience by journalist Daniela Rea for newspaper El Universal. On a recent visit to Mexico, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture – who did not visit Ciudad Juárez – confirmed that torture is “widespread” in the country. And, for over the past decade, AnimalPolítico confirmed that not a single public official has been punished for this serious crime. PT

 

Torture in Mexico: Human Rights Organization Takes On Another Four Torture Cases from Ciudad Juárez
By Martín Orquiz (El Diario de Ciudad Juárez)

Defense attorneys from the Center for Human Rights Paso del Norte (Centro de Derechos Humanos Paso del Norte, CDHPN) have four other cases similar to those accused of extortion and freed after a court agreed Monday that their confessions were obtained under torture.

And, according to the organization’s spokesperon, Carlos Murillo González, another eight case files are under evaluation to determine if they share characteristics required to take on their defense.

Until now, three cases exist where it has been proved that police officers tortured people to “confess” their participation in various criminal acts. Among these are the cases of five border residents who were accused of detonating a car bomb in 2012 but who were later accused of carrying arms, drug possession and of links to organized crime.

The fourth case was not publicised to the same extent, according to the spokesperson, but it did share the same characteristics as the others: those accused were young men living in neighborhoods on the outskirts of Ciudad Juárez, tortured to admit their participation in criminal activities.

Murillo González added that these cases all share various features: the alleged perpetrators were taken from their homes by police officers from different forces but their reports state the arrest took place elsewhere and under different conditions.

In the cases currently under discussion, Carlos Murillo expects them to be successful because each undergoes a rigorous selection process before the CDHPN takes on their defense.

The CDHPN spokesperson referred to brothers Juan Antonio and Jesús Iván Figueroa Gómez who, along with Misael Sánchez Frausto, have been imprisoned on charges of extortion for two years and five months. However, a court has annulled the evidence presented by the Public Prosecutor, determining that it was obtained through torture.

Another person accusd in the same case, the underage brother of the Figueroa Gómez was declared innocent for lack of proof in August 2013. All of these accused were arrested on 18 January 2012.

As recently as last March, the Federal Attorney General (PGR) withdrew the charges against the five men arrested and accused of involvement in detonating the 2010 car bomb.

Noé Fuentes Chavira, Rogelio Amaya Martínez, Víctor Manuel Martínez Rentería, Gustavo Martínez Rentería and Ricardo Fernández Lomelí were freed after more than three and a half years in prison.

These five men tested positive for torture under the Istanbul Protocol, a diagnostic tool used to assess if a person was subjected to torture or degrading treatment.

Newspaper sources establish that on their arrest they were accused of organized criminal membership, crimes against the health code for possession of marijuana, and having firearms reserved exclusively for the Armed Forces.

Murillo González mentioned that these cases have a documented modus operandi by police: officers arrive at homes and detain men whom they consider belong to gangs.

“Those arrested are young and poor, that’s the way the police works,” he added.

In regards accusations of torture used for self-incrimination, Murillo González said that another four cases are still pending and another eight are in a CDHPN review process: each case is submitted to a selection process that can take several months to see if the human rights organization can take on their defense or not.

Among the people that the CDHPN is currently defending are those accused of extortion, robbery and belonging to organized crime.

Yet there are still many others who come to the CDHPN to request information, looking for help, Murillo González says. These people often decide not to continue with their cases because they are subject to police violence, receive threats, and refuse to go further. The CDHPN only acts when those affected want to file a formal complaint.

“They come for help but they don’t want to follow any further steps. But we’ve been able to put together a systematic view of the way the police work, they way they attack certain social groups, mostly against youth from poor neighborhoods,” he said.

The police officers, he added, arrest somebody and force them through illegal means to say who their accomplices were, then forcing them to identify them.

“At any hour of the day or night they invade their homes and remove the youth who are implicated. Then they use torture to make them confess, and this practice is something we frequently see,” he specified.

Murillo González, who is a sociologist, mentioned that on average each week about two or three people seek out psychological assistance because they have been experiencing threats or torture by the police. They tend to ask for help but then they don’t go any further.

There is no set protocol for the cases that the CDHPN accepts, but they do share the following features: the affected come from a vulnerable group and, if torture occurred, the CDHPN reviews the testimony to see if they coincide with the facts and they even investigate the person’s trustworthiness.

“We are accused of defending criminals, but we defend human dignity,” Murillo González emphasized during the interview. “It falls to the authorities to prove what the accused did; to us they are innocent.”

Journalist Martín Orquiz reports for El Diario de Ciudad Juárez. This article was first published with the title, “Defiende organización otros 4 casos de tortura,” and is available at: http://diario.mx/Local/2014-06-10_b9a41638/defiende-organizacion-otros-4-casos-de-tortura/.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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My Country, You Are Watching Me Leave (Rodrigo Soberanes Santín, En El Camino, Periodistas de a Pie)

This story is part of a series produced by En El Camino by Periodistas de a Pie, and funded by the Open Society Foundations. It has been translated pro bono, and without permission, by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

My Country, You Are Watching Me Leave
By Rodrigo Soberanes Santín (En El Camino, Periodistas de a Pie) 

What lies behind the numbers of tens of thousands of migrants who cross the border each year? Statistics suggest that people in their tens of thousands cross into Mexico without migratory documents – mostly from Honduras. But these figures don’t explain the reasons behind the exodus, for the misery and violence that permeate their countries of origin. For those who have left, and for those about to leave, the absence of the future leaves them with few options: stay to die a slow death, or risk their lives in a hellish journey.

Progreso, Honduras.- José Luis places his artificial limb on his leg, puts on his shirt with only one sleeve, and places a bandana around the only finger on the only hand he still has from that day in the Mexican desert.

He opens the door, passes the ongoing construction site that one day, he says, will house his family when he is married, and goes out into the street in search of a family that has a story of migration to tell him. He is president of the Association of Migrant Returnees with a Disability (Asociación de Migrantes Retornados con Discapacidad), and he has a remarkable interest in familiarizing himself with all the cases of forced migration from his country; he offers himself as a guide to know their stories.

For many years, José Luis has been well known in this city. Famous at one time for his talent singing rancheros and religious songs, eight years ago he lost his arm, a leg, and four fingers when he fell from a cargo train. It was his second attempt to reach the United States as an undocumented migrant. That’s who he was when he came back to Progreso and so he became involved in accompanying those who experienced the same thing he had lived through.

José Luis, on a walk around Progreso

José Luis, on a walk around Progreso

Honduras, his country, is the place most Central American migrants leave to go north. The flow of migration from Honduras has the greatest human cost in the world. Progreso, his city, is one of Honduras’s principal manufacturers of manpower ready to undertake the journey.

The journey north seems to be everywhere but above all else in those places where the exodus begins. When the drivers and their helpers have enough passengers, the buses parked in the city’s dilapidated central bus station can leave. The first buses to go are those for San Pedro Sula, a good place to leave the country. Then, when they enter Mexico, they are in the land of murders, fatal accidents, kidnappings and disappearances.

The Mesoamerican Migrant Movement labels the region the place of “migrant genocide.”

Before 1998, when Hurricane Mitch destroyed Honduras, Progreso was a place that attracted workers from the country’s south because of its banana industry and its factories. Today, its streets bear the marks of what forced migration gives and takes: houses constructed from material but with fractured families; small businesses and fast food restaurants that mingle with this place’s customs; places to receive Western Union remittances that spring up like businesses mining migrants’ savings.

A walk around Progreso’s streets and one finds Claro telephone stalls belonging to Mexican business magnate, Carlos Slim, and brimming with clients complaining about the poor service. Further on, in the dusty peripheral neighborhoods, residents leaving work avoid the darkness so they won’t be assaulted. Day laborers from the last of the banana plantations, industrial workers, taxis, office workers, and the unemployed – all of them are somehow linked to migration.

“Most of them were, or will be, migrants,” says Javier, a factory worker.

His eleven year-old grandson Anthony is with him and asks, “Is Honduras beautiful?” He replies that it’s not because “anybody can pull a pistol on you.”

It won’t do anything for Anthony to remember all the beautiful things about his country. Neither the Copán ruins, nor the Caribbean port of Puerto Cortés, nor the marvels of the sea around Atlántido, and not even the impressive mountain ranges of Santa Bárbara. He is growing up in a crumbling country.

Meanwhile, surefooted, and dextrously dominating his prosthetic leg that hangs halfway down his right thigh, José Luis walks under the intense Honduran sun, pointing at the houses built with dollars from migrants’ remittances, the country’s principle source of income.

They are houses that break the mold, built according to their owner’s criteria. They have painted walls, space for a car, for several rooms and they are covered with anti-theft devices. Each house represents a survival story. More light enters their windows.

“There are a ton of houses built thanks to migrants’ remittances, those who risk their lives on the journey. Here in Progreso, and especially in this neighborhood are the roots of migration, where there are orphans because parents left and there’s significant family disintegration because of migration,” says José Luis.

In the same block there are other houses that are concrete blocks with plastic roofs, built by Honduras’s government through its social housing program. These are the homes where nobody sends back remittances.

Karla lives in one of these houses. She’s seventeen years old. She still hasn’t left.

Yet.

If she migrates, Karla is most afraid of being kidnapped.

If she migrates, Karla is most afraid of being kidnapped.

THE COUNTRY THAT WAS

Guido Eguiguren, a sociologist from the Association of Judges for Democracy (Asociación de Jueces por la Democracia), a Honduran human rights defender, explains forced migration in his country taking place after Hurricane Mitch, in October 1998.

“The hurricane didn’t just physically destroy the country, its infrastructure, and thousands of lives. It also showed the world a country it barely knew, with a staggering level of inequality, a country forgotten by the world of development and cooperation. A country known for the nasty role it played in the 1980s acting as the United States’ aircraft carrier.”

While El Salvador and Nicaragua were battered by civil war, Honduras lent its territory to train the armed forces of the governments of those countries.

Honduras is a country of poor people where 66.5 percent of its residents do not have sufficient income to feed themselves. It’s also an unequal country that spits on people like José Luis or Karla as they look for ways to survive: 10 percent of the richest people in the country have an income equal to that of 80 percent of its low-income population.

Honduras shares first place with Guatemala and El Salvador for pushing out migrants to Mexico, and it takes first place in the divide between rich and poor. In terms of inequality in the Latin American region, Honduras take third place, Guatemala is in fourth, and El Salvador comes in at number seven.

Central America, undermined by poverty and violence

Central America, undermined by poverty and violence

Nobody knows for certain how many Hondurans leave their country each year, and it’s a figure that the government does not want to give out. The rough estimate by the Catholic Church’s Pastoral for Human Movement comes from counting the numbers of people deported from Mexico and the United States: in 2013 it was 72,000 Hondurans, including children and babies.

From Monday to Friday, deportees arrive in two airplanes every day at the Center for Returnee Migrants (Centro de Atención al Migrante Retornado, CMAR) at the San Pedro Sula airport, 30 kilometers from Progreso. Men and women get off the planes who left the country free and who come back with their feet bound in tape, their wrists in chains, and with a half-empty sack as their only baggage.

They walk a few steps on leaving the plane, look around from side to side and leave the airport terminal. In a few days, maybe at that very moment, they will undertake the journey back, starting from scratch.

José Luis, who is normally a chatterbox, keeps silent when he sees them arrive, recently unbound and thankful that their country greets them with a “baleada,” a meager flour tortilla covered in beans.

It’s a brutal brush with reality. When they return they are even poorer, more vulnerable, and more exposed to the violence that forced them to flee in the first place.

 

THE COUNTRY THAT IS

José Luis lives in a street in the San Jorge neighborhood, a barrio established by Jesuit missionaries at the beginning of the last decade after Hurricane Mitch “positioned” itself for a day and a half over Honduras, inundating the country with the water and wind of a category five hurricane, the most furious of them all.

Today San Jorge is controlled by two spies (“banderistas”) of the Mara Salvatrucha who report to their bosses who comes and goes. Its four entrances are guarded by the “güirros”, some young men recruited by the Maras and armed with pistols that scare everybody. Instructions from the underworld that extend throughout Progreso come from the hill above, behind an imaginary curtain that marks the barrios’ borders.

Manuel de Jesús Suárez, communications officer of the team of Reflection, Investigation and Communication, an organization that tries to understand the causes of migration from Honduras speaks about the country it is now.

Previously, migration used to occur as an escape from poverty. Today it is a way of saving one’s life, escaping from the daily violence that is permanently in the street, house, and in the Honduran government.

“The causes of migration are not conjunctural but structural, meaning the lack of work and decent salaries, access to health, to education, to housing. Now the other phenomenon is violence, organized crime, and the drug business shaping the country’s structure. The causes are a cyst in the system. They are there. The system makes it so that the majority of the poorest men and women remain excluded and so they leave,” he explains.

Manuel de Jesús, a man of more than 50 years old, knows this history well. He was born in Progreso and he has seen the collapse of the factories and the banana plantations, along with the arrival of the U.S. fast food outlets that spew out their greasy odor in the chaotic streets at the heart of the city. Wendy’s outlets, Burger Kings and Pizza Huts – all have armed guards with shotguns stationed inside their branches.

In 2013, 9,453 people died in Honduras for “external reasons”, meaning they were victims of violence. Of these 71.5 percent were murdered. In this country where an undeclared war rages, 563 people die each month. That’s nineteen deaths every day.

These numbers mark Honduras with the highest homicide rate in the world.

Viridiana wants to flee Honduras

Viridiana wants to flee Honduras

 

DISPOSSESSION AND DERELICTION

José Luis walks Progreso’s streets with mastery on his only leg. The sounds of radios drift from the windows of houses. Radio Progreso was established by Jesuits. On a Sunday program serving as catharsis to confront the abandonment, the station covers work problems, neighborhood violence, the educational system, human rights and migration.

The signal that can be heard from these windows accompanies people whose families have been broken. A migrant comes on the air to tell how, when he left Honduras, “another cock feathered his wife” and his wife left him. The calls keep on coming. Mostly on the radio one hears about those who live or lived with some consequence of forced migration.

The presenters on the Sunday program are Rosa Nelly Santos and Marcia Martínez, members of the Committee of Relatives of Disappeared Migrants (Cofamipro), and on this occasion they are talking about family disintegration. Before moving to a break in the program, Rosa Nelly announced the tune Hermano Migrante (Fellow Migrant) by Natividad Herrera who sings, “Return soon and enjoy what’s yours / forget the crying and all that pain.”

Return home; fill the towns with people that migration took north. Progreso, like many communities and barrios in Central America has been slowly emptied in the past year. Houses remain behind, sometimes empty, but most half inhabited.

Behind every door and window lie fractured stories.

Floridalma's House: She hides behind its walls.

Floridalma’s House: She hides behind its walls.

 

Teodora stays behind

Teodora stays behind

 

LIFE, MUTILATED

The year was 2005, and it was José Luis’s second attempt at going to the United States. He and his friend Selvi took nineteen days to reach northern Mexico; those days were uneventful. They traveled from Progreso without stopping. They took the train in Tapachula, Mexico. They arrived in Chihuahua. They were going to cross the border at Ciudad Juárez-El Paso.

For José Luis, the success of the journey consisted in not leaving his friend while he slept on the train. He annoyed him. He spoke to him. He made him angry and he kicked him. He didn’t want him to fall asleep.

José Luis – a good footballer, guitar player, and fan of fishing in the Ulúa River bordering Progreso – sat beside the train wagon’s gears and stretched forward to tie a shoe. Strange thing: sweat covered the whole of his neck to the top of his head. He had never been in the desert. The train entered the city of Delicias and José Luis blinked.

“Suddenly things went dark and I fell. I fainted from the dry, June heat. The train severed my leg. Then I put out my arm because I couldn’t free my leg and it cut that off, too. I put out my other arm and the train wheel squashed it.

Silvi, his friend, did not realize what had happened until kilometers further on when he noticed blood covering the train wheels. He thought he was dead. He now lives in the United States where he has started a family. In the south, his friend remained behind: the man who took care of him on the train and who now moves around the streets on one leg, balancing on the arm left him by La Bestia.

 

Texts in Spanish: Rodrigo Soberanes Santín, for Periodistas de a Píe
I am a reporter who travels all around, mostly in Veracruz, Mexico, a good place for my job. Stories have to be brought out from nooks and crannies, and brought to the surface, like kites. Currently I work with Noticias MVS, Associated Press, Diario 19, and Jornada Veracruz.

Images: Moysés Zuñiga Santiago, for Periodistas de a Píe
A photojournalist from Chiapas interested in the struggle of indigenous communities and migration across Mexico’s southern border. I work with La Jornada, AP, Reuters and AFP. My work has been shown in New York University in 2010 and 2013. I traveled with young people like myself crossing the border in search of opportunity, taking personal stories with me that let me journey beside them. I do this work because of that; I want to make extreme situations of violence visible so that these situations don’t occur and people don’t die.

Images: Prometeo Lucero, for Periodistas de a Píe
Freelance journalist focused on human rights issues, migration, and the environment. I have collaborated with La Jornada, the Expansion group, Proceso, Desacatos, Biodiversidad Sustento y Culturas, Letras Libres, Variopinto, and among other agencies, Latitudes Press, Zuma Press, AP, and Reuters. My photojournalism appears in books such as 72migrantes (Almadía, 2011), Secretaría de Educación Pública (2010); Altares y Ofrendas en México (2010); Cartografías Disidentes (Aecid, 2008) and I have been published in other books: “Dignas: Voces de defensoras de derechos humanos” (2012) and “Acompañando la Esperanza” (2013). I was a finalist in the competition, “Rostros de la Discriminación” (México, 2012), “Los Trabajos y los Días” (Colombia, 2013) and “Hasselblad Masters” (2014).

Translation into English: Patrick Timmons, for the MxJTP
Is a human rights investigator, historian, and journalist. Follow his activities on Twitter @patricktimmons. Timmons has publications — translations, articles, or reviews — in the Tico Times (Costa Rica), El País in English (Spain), CounterPunch (USA), The Texas Observer (USA), The Latin American Research Review (USA & Canada), and the Radical History Review (USA). A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science (1996), Timmons holds three advanced university degrees: a Master’s in Latin American Studies from the University of Cambridge, UK (1998); a Ph.D. in Latin American History from the University of Texas at Austin, USA (2004); and, a Master’s in International Human Rights Law from the University of Essex, UK (2013).

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Missing in Mexico: The Disappeared During Peña Nieto’s Presidency (Paris Martínez and Daniela Rea, AnimalPolítico)

This is the second of six articles published by AnimalPolítico about disappeared people during Peña Nieto’s Presidency. It has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The Disappeared during Peña Nieto’s Presidency
By París Martínez and Daniela Rea (AnimalPolítico)

 

Marisol Hidalgo Juárez, almost 15 years old. Victim of a disappearance in March 2014.

Marisol Hidalgo Juárez, almost 15 years old. Victim of a disappearance in March 2014.

 

The information provided by the National Register of Missing People does not provide a clear profile of the victims: it fails to include socio-economic data, educational attainment, work and health status. But it is possible to pull out some demographic features that characterize those who have disappeared in Mexico during the first ten months of the Peña Nieto presidency.

For example, women twelve to fifteen years old are the population most affected during this period and number 519 disappearances. According to the National Register, one of every five disappearance cases is that of an adolescent woman. Marisol Hidalgo Juárez, a girl of fourteen, belongs to this group. A resident of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, two months ago on the 13 March 2014 an unknown person abducted her. “What the neighbors who saw everything say is that a man entered the house and took her by force,” said her father, “my girl had barely just started secondary school…”

When she was abducted, Marisol was a month from her fifteenth birthday. In fact, in the photo used to advertise the search for her, she wears the dress she was going to use for her party.

“She has brown hair, two big eyes,” murmurs her father, his voice shaking with anxiety, “the Public Prosecutor, the Army, the Navy, and the State Police are all looking for her now, and all of them have her photo but still they have not found anything… and I want to ask people who see her, or the person who has her, that they return her to us. We aren’t going to do anything against that person, we just want her brought back to us. We want to know that my girl is alright…”

Journalist Paris Martínez reports for AnimalPolítico and may be followed on Twitter @paris_martinez. Journalist Daniela Rea reports for AnimalPolítico and newspaper El Universal. Follow her on Twitter @danielarea. This article, the second of six in a series, first appeared in Spanish with the title, “Los desaparecidos de Peña Nieto.” The full series, in Spanish, is available, here: https://readymag.com/animalpolitico/31859/2/.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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Missing in Mexico: 2,618 Disappearances In Peña Nieto’s First Year as President (Paris Martínez and Daniela Rea, AnimalPolítico)

This first of six articles was published by AnimalPolítico on 3 June 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Missing in Mexico: 2,618 Disappearances In Peña Nieto’s First Year as President
By Paris Martínez and Daniela Rea (AnimalPolítico)

A group of armed men abducted six workers from outside the Bolívar Mine in Piedras Verdes, Chihuahua on 9 February 2013. They also took their tools. Five welders and the camp cook disappeared; their whereabouts are still unknown.

According to the miners’ relatives, nobody tried to find them: neither the state nor federal authorities, and not even their employer Dia Bras de México, an affiliate of the Canadian mining company, Sierra Metals, Inc. So led by supervisor engineer Abraham Mendoza, nine days later fifteen fellow welders went after them. They left the state capital and headed towards Urique township in search of their missing colleagues.

This second group, however, was ambushed when they arrived at the Piedra Verdes mining camp: a group of armed men set upon the welders, gagging, beating, and hitting them for being in the region. The attackers freed eleven welders, but continued to hold three others captive including their supervisor, warning: “If you are still here when dawn breaks, we will kill them.”

These survivors were forced to flee from the Bolívar mine knowing that ten of their colleagues remained captives of the criminal group that controlled the region. Since then, each of them may be considered a victim of forced disappearance. (Translator’s note: the facts, as described, do not seem to conform to the international legal definition of a forced disappearance. According to international law, state agents must have participated in, or have authorized, supported, or acquiesced to, the acts which led to the disappearance. See, Article 2, the International Convention for the Protection of All People from Enforced Disappearance. PT) “It wasn’t a common kidnapping. They never called to ask for ransom,” says María del Carmen de Jesús Ventura, the mother of Arturo Chacón, a disappeared welder. “They took them with their team, and with their tools, with their machines, with their computers, and with Abraham Mendoza’s truck, the welders’ boss.”

The names of the abducted workers from the Bolívar mine are: Arturo Chacón de Jesús, Gustavo Ornelas, Abraham Mendoza, Sergio Ávila Jiménes, José Guadalupe Terrazas Urbina, David Fuentes González, Mauro Orduño Muela, Benjamín Reyes Palomares, along with the camp cook, Guadalupe, whose surnames have been ignored.

The ten miners belong to the 2,618 “missing” people since Enrique Peña Nieto became president of Mexico. To be exact, these are the victims reported during the government’s first ten months, in the period from December 2012 to September 2013, when officials last updated those figures.

According to the National Register of Missing People (a publicly-accessible tool that was available online until 25 May – it was then deactivated by federal authorities), during Peña Nieto’s presidency these victims can be broken down into 1,115 women (42.6 percent) and 1,502 men (57.4 percent), and were abducted from 29 jurisdictions. The only states that did not officially register any disappearances from the beginning of the presidential term were: Campeche, Nayarit, and Hidalgo.

Journalist Paris Martínez reports for AnimalPolítico and may be followed on Twitter @paris_martinez. Journalist Daniela Rea reports for AnimalPolítico and newspaper El Universal. Follow her on Twitter @danielarea. This article, one of six in a series, first appeared in Spanish with the title, “Se acumulan 2mil 618 casos de desaparición en 1er año de EPN.” The full series, in Spanish, is available, here: https://readymag.com/animalpolitico/31859/2/.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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Social Activist and His Wife Bludgeoned to Death in Mexico (Pablo de Llano, El País)

This article was published in El País on 6 May 2014. It has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

 

Professor Alejandro Chao at a community event. / Photo: BLOG LA HORMEGA

Professor Alejandro Chao at a community event. / Photo: BLOG LA HORMEGA

 

Social Activist and His Wife Bludgeoned to Death in Mexico
by Pablo de Llano (El País)

- The murder of a married couple respected for their social activism shocks the State of Morelos, the birthplace of Mexico’s Peace Movement

“It’s an atypical event,” Morelos’s governor, Graco Ramírez, said. The press release from the State University of Morelos defines it somewhat differently; as a high-impact crime characterized by a situation of structural insecurity: “These brutal and unspeakable murders (…) once again prick the country’s conscience about the absence of the right to life and security for citizens.” For a hurried politician what happened is an “event” but for the professor’s colleagues and friends the murders were a crime. The politician says it was “atypical” but to the friends and colleagues it was appalling evidence of a problem with shared public responsibility.

The lifeless bodies of the renowned psychology professor and social activist Alejandro Chao (77) and his wife, Sara Rebolledo (71), were found Monday morning in their home in Cuernavaca, the capital of the State of Morelos. On their heads they had marks of being bludgeoned by a stone. A window to their house was broken. Morelos’s Prosecutor, headquartered two blocks from the crime scene, has suggested an assault when the couple returned home at night and came upon the intruders. Morelos’s security chief, Alberto Capella, has said that the people who carried out the crime reacted violently because they knew the couple, and were surprised to see them arrive, “outside their routine.”

Bordering the south of Mexico City, the small state of Morelos has two million residents. It’s not one of Mexico’s regions overwhelmed by organized crime but it is an area preoccupied with small-scale criminal activity: mostly, kidnappings and extortions. In 2013, it was the Mexican state with the highest proportion of abductions: 8.5 per 100,000 people. If the states of Michoacán and Tamualipas provide the actual paradigms for the authorities for trying to combat the power of the large drug trafficking mafiosi, Morelos epitomizes the problems of structural deficiencies to protect citizens from crimes committed by smaller criminal groups. In the wake of the violent dynamics within Mexico stemming from the fight against drug trafficking and fed by the fatal combination of socioeconomic marginalization and criminal impunity, these lesser groups look on everyday citizens as a way to make money.

Professor Chao’s university has called for a march this Wednesday in Cuernavaca. Three years ago, the city’s displeased society symbolically turned itself against crime; in March 2011, poet Javier Sicilia’s 24-year old son was assassinated. A famous Mexican intellectual, Sicilia headed a march from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, sparking the Movement for Peace, Justice, and Dignity, the country’s most relevant social phenomenon of recent years. Three years later, with Sicilia retired to a supporting role after two years of unceasing activism, and because of the victims’ stature, Cuernavaca’s society finds itself with a new high impact case: a respected academic who after a life dedicated to social progress ends up murdered in his house beside his wife in an alleged assault by common criminals.

Chao continued to serve as director of the School of Social Work, after 36 years spent training psychologists, facts recognized in the University’s press release, which also mentions that Chao served as Mexico’s representative on UNESCO’s Council of Higher Education. According to the University, Chao “throughout his long and fertile life, gave voice to historically excluded communities and groups.” The press release ends by announcing this Wednesday’s march, and with a slogan: “Towards a humanity based on culture.”

Professor Chao was also a promoter of culture and edited a published collection of poetry called Voices Against the Wind (Voces al viento), bringing together young poets. He published one of his books of poetry in this collection: he called it Canticles of the Kabbalah (Cántigas de la cábala). The academic collaborated on a literary and political blog called La Hormega. After learning of his murder this Monday his fellow bloggers published one of his poems. By telephone this morning, Juan Pablo Picazo, who is responsible for La Hormega said the professor was involved in a process of re-writing his canticles. “He used to say that the more you grow, the more you learn, in the vain of Walt Whitman.” The last paragraph of the canticle published yesterday on the blog says:

The poet revives to the tune of pipes and flutes made of hemp;

I leave the garden where the fireflies excite the quantum world,

the lively rainbow color of the hummingbird sucking bottlebrush flowers

Three years after the tragedy of Javier Sicilia’s son, Mexico proves it still has problems with poetry and life.

Journalist Pablo de Llano reports for El País from Mexico. You can follow him on Twitter @pablodellano. This story first appeared under the title, “Asesinados a golpes en México un luchador social y su esposa,” available at: http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/05/06/actualidad/1399400912_102565.html.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons. The MxJTP has a FaceBook page: like it, here.

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VOICES FROM THE GRAVE: A MURDERED SOCIOLOGIST WARNS ABOUT THE MAQUILA AND MODERNITY IN CIUDAD JUÁREZ (MANUEL ARROYO GALVÁN, EL NORTE DE CIUDAD JUÁREZ)

This article was published in El Norte de Ciudad Juárez on 30 September 2001. It has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

The translation of this article is dedicated to Dr. Alfredo Limas Hernández, professor at the UACJ.

VOICES FROM THE GRAVE: A MURDERED SOCIOLOGIST WARNS ABOUT THE MAQUILA AND MODERNITY IN CIUDAD JUÁREZ (MANUEL ARROYO GALVÁN, EL NORTE DE CIUDAD JUÁREZ)

The late Manuel Arroyo Galván (44) was assassinated in Ciudad Juárez on 29 May 2009. A sociology professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences (ICSA) at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (UACJ), Arroyo Galván was also a well-known social activist. His friend and colleague Carlos Murillo G. wrote at the time of his murder that Arroyo Galván was, in the early 1990s, one of the first sociology graduates at the UACJ. He was also a former maquila worker who later obtained a doctorate and entered university teaching, developing a profound commitment to social activism. According to news reports, he was shot in his car when he stopped at a traffic light on Av. Gómez Morin and Manuel Clouthier in Ciudad Juárez at 1700 on a Friday afternoon. The murder of Arroyo Galván has never been explained, and continues in impunity.

The following article published in 2001 – never before translated into English – offers a glimpse of the depth of what Ciudad Juárez lost when Arroyo Galván was murdered. In this article, the reader will observe that Arroyo Galván had already identified what the destruction of Juárez’s social life and alienation meant. In 2001, long before the drug war violence that erupted during Felipe Calderón’s sexenio, Arroyo Galván made a spirited argument in favor of restructuring the city’s “social fabric.” Then, nobody seemed to listen. Today, with many thousands dead, and a city destroyed and him dead because of it, if we choose to ignore his words we do so at our own peril.

Between 2008 and 2010 three UACJ professors were murdered – José Alfonso Martínez Lujan, Gerardo González Guerrero, and Manuel Arroyo Galván – as well as three students at the University: Jaime Alejandro Irigoyen Frías, Juan Gerardo Pérez and Alfredo Portillo Santos. Their murders are included in the 11,451 people murdered in Juárez during the sexenio of Felipe Calderón Hinojosa. (The MxJTP gratefully acknowledges that the cumulative murder count for Calderón’s sexenio comes from records provided by Molly Molloy at New Mexico State University.) PT

The Maquiladora Model
By Manuel Arroyo Galván (El Norte de Ciudad Juárez)

People who reside in this region complain about the accelerated pace of the shifts suffered by the local maquiladora industry – changes that stem from events in the world system. We are quick to reflect on the significance of how the maquila has affected the trajectory of this region. But the speed of changes overturns the routines of people who have come to live in this city. Our capacity for learning and adjustment can be overwhelmed and this weakens our ability to build responses relevant for the new times that are coming.

Sometimes we think that the maquila has rooted itself in this region. And with that thought we wish to dispel the experiences of the “easy-to-flee businesses” of the 1970s. But the local effects of the North American recession and China’s full integration into the world market prove the contrary. The easy exit of the region’s maquila factories and the consequent reduction in employment don’t obey the evil wiles of the factories’ directors, but are a characteristic intrinsic to them: “The businesses belong to people who have invested in them: not to their workers, their suppliers, nor even to the region where they are located.”

During the period of the maquila’s presence in our city, the global dynamics that govern production processes have marked the rhythms of the region’s life. We have not only experienced a sustained migration from different parts of the country but subsequently the factories have developed a process of differentiation for employees: as winners or losers they are assessed and positioned in front of their futures and their own trajectories.

Throughout this time, the life of the city has been divided in two: industrial, business and financial areas that share space with high-income neighborhoods. At the same time there has been a growth of low-income neighborhoods on the city’s outskirts, with large segments without running water and a huge low-income population earning much less than even two minimum wages.

Everything indicates that working does not guarantee a better quality of life. Even though we have the world’s largest concentration of factories, ours is a city that not only appears in national statistics with a high level of well-being but also in international news reports about murders of women and drug trafficking.

The rhythm imposed by the maquila export system has unleashed processes of change and modernity that have overtaken the region’s abilities. These processes have demanded quick self-learning by employees, changed how family members relate to each other, and required forms of social integration which did not exist before the arrival of these changes in the city.

In a short-time period, there has been a deep restructuring in the local system that quickly makes practical experiences and the mental outlook of a great part of the population obsolete. This restructuring amplifies generational fissures. It makes it difficult to build communication between these different points and to shift towards new realities.

THE REAL CITY AGAINST THE VIRTUAL CITY

The urbanization process results from pressure exerted by the pattern of situating the industrial export factory, and land speculation by real estate moguls. This has shaped an urban landscape that privileges the use of the city by productive export processes and business dynamics that revolve around those processes. But it’s forgotten that a city must also be a place where people live.

A resident in this city must travel enormous distances to undertake life’s necessary activities. The absence of public spaces weakens social ties and undercuts feelings of social belonging and social identity. All of these issues produce empty feelings in the activities that are only developed for the “economy” but they don’t construct people, human beings. This situation needs to be contrasted with the experience of what it is like to be inside the maquila, what it is like to be a part of its managerial team. Inside is where one feels the sense of belonging to an elite, belonging to a vanguard that allows people to participate in the world’s most dynamic of production processes, of being in touch with the conditions that shape progress. This contrast of situations accentuates the physical and social polarization lived in the city, provoking an experience of the sense of living in two cities that sometimes correspond to each other but that more often than not and for most people, are actually opposed to each other and compete between themselves: the real city anchored in local, daily dynamics – that of the majority of the population; and the virtual city, globalized, frenetic and changeable, inserted into the world’s productive processes.

Added to these dynamics, the fundamental issue is that people make the local reality – they are not only the base for processes of production but are linked to the desires that brought them here in the first place: the great majority of the city’s residents left the communities we originally came from.

Those desires breathe life into our dreams and allow us to resist the ravages of the individual’s experiences of living here. But at the same time these desires also raise individualism to its extreme.

The result weakens our social support networks and loses sight of shared objectives, straying away from community projects that attempt to recover the social power of being from another place. These projects should be able to channel individual desires in defense of our collectivities, permanently reconstructing our immediate communities.

Along with the advantages that the industrial export maquilas bring to the city – such as the obvious sign of its modernity – there are situations of weakness that foster processes of social marginalization. These reinforce the sense of weakness that stems from an uncertain future. We are okay, but we feel bad. Something is going on.

Everything seems to suggest that we have taken care of how the local economic system works, for interests where its basic functions are enough to create wellbeing for its population. But we are still waiting for the expected spillover effects. The local economy is deficient because it does not cover the whole population and fails to ensure equitable access to services.

THE THREAT OF EXCLUSION

When the market fails to satisfy certain recognizable signs of integration – once covered by the state – exclusion is lived daily, as a threat.

The fear of the criminal – which far outstrips actual rates of criminality – is a symptom of other fears. It reflects “our” weakness. Collective identities have lost their material and symbolic anchors, and their place is occupied by a withdrawal to the home and a “negative individualism.” But individual and familial strategies are no substitute for sociability. Thus, internalizing competition and precariousness as vital experiences sharpens the sense of solitude and absence of contact.

Groundless fear produced by daily experiences — stress, pollution, drug addiction, aggressiveness — reflects the chaos of social life. That experience is sharpened by fear of the future. The lack of a long-term horizon complicates cultivating a sense of order. As customary reference points — family, school, business, nation — lose their strength of meaning, individuals find it difficult to elaborate a “meaning for their lives.”

People perceive that they do not belong to a modernization that seems to support them, nor do they benefit from new opportunities. In this way, a weakened subjectivity endangers the social base of the modernization process.

The challenge, then, is to ensure that functionality converges with economic growth in the sense that it fosters the sociability necessary, and inherent in, human beings. The reconstruction of a “collective” capable of influencing the forward march of various working systems and developed alongside their collective hopes and social capital.

In sum, what’s required is a rebuilding of the region’s social fabric. For this city, having an identity looking out towards the world is a strategic task. It’s an urgent response to the emptying out of the local that has provoked a functional economy turned towards the outside with globalizing agents as its only interlocutors. To live in this city it is necessary to give the local a sense of its own existence.

Promoting the value of social capital proves indispensable to achieve the goals of overcoming poverty, becoming internationally competitive, or retaining the position we have already achieved.

Promoting development cannot continue by forgetting the urgent need of reconciling duality and growing polarization produced by the accelerated development of the maquiladora in this locality. We must make the real  city – rather than the virtual, globalized, and functional – visible. The challenge is to redefine the relationship between the local and its transnational partners. We must optimize what the city has to offer. And what this city has to offer is its people.

Sociologist Manuel Arroyo Galván (44) was a professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez. This article first appeared in Spanish under the title, “El modelo maquilador,” and is not available publicly on the web.

Translator Patrick Timmons is a human rights investigator and journalist. He edits the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP), a quality selection of Spanish-language journalism about Latin America rendered into English. Follow him on Twitter @patricktimmons.

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