Category Archives: Poverty

They are going to kill you, by Javier Valdez Cárdenas

Friends, family, and colleagues warned him: Take care, man. Those guys have no limits. They are bastards. But in his column in one of the local papers he kept criticizing and complaining, using his keyboard, his words, to pelt corrupt politicians for conspiring with criminals, police at the mafia’s command.

He’d been a reporter for some time, experienced in investigative work. There was never a shortage of subjects to cover, but those paths, hidden by thorny plants, led to gunpowder or a waiting trigger, to the bosses’ glassy stares, to escape routes without exits, to streets that only led to hot smoke, wisps dancing in the wind after the gun shots.

But he wore a bulletproof vest across his chest. To him the moon looked like a lantern that could even light up the day. Pen and notebook were his escape, therapy, crucifixion, and exorcism. He wrote and wrote onto a blank page and spat it out onto the screen with his fingers, from his mouth, splattering everything. He bawled into his columns with anger and pain and sadness and wrath and consternation and fury, talking about the shit-covered governor, the mayor flush with funds, the smiling lawmaker who looked like a cash register receiving and receiving wads of cash and pinging when taking in another million.

The business dealings of the powerful were his subject. How they took advantage of everything and fucked over the common people. Destitution, like garbage, grew and spilled over sidewalks and street corners. Brothels overflowed. Hospitals never lacked sick people but neither were there beds nor doctors. That’s right, the prisons overflowed and an empire of smoke covered everything. Black clouds covered the starry skies, filling the heads of the region’s residents, making them sick yet not indignant. But he wasn’t going to give in. No way, he repeated to himself. He started to write.

A report put a lawmaker at the center of a hurricane. He joined those criticizing the lawmaker’s might and his ties to those at the top of political, economic and criminal power. Few were the legislators’ detractors and almost nobody wrote about it, but he would not shut up. On FaceBook he posted ferocious, brave words. They told him: Hey man, tone it down. Those bastards are out to get you. They will kill you. He shrugged it off with a harrumph. They won’t do anything to me. They can go fuck themselves.

Three hours after that post on social media they caught up with him and shot him point blank so as not to miss.

Award winning Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cárdenas was murdered on 15 May 2017 just after leaving Ríodoce, a newspaper he helped establish in Culiacán, Sinaloa. He was 50 years old. He published this Malayerba column on 27 March 2017. His most recent book (previously published in Spanish as Levantones), appears in English translation and with an introduction by Everard Meade as The Taken: True Stories of the Sinaloa Drug War,  published earlier this year by University of Oklahoma Press.

Advertisements

Mexico’s Migrant Women, Trapped between Real and Imaginary Frontiers (ÁNGELES MARISCAL, EN EL CAMINO)

This article and its accompanying photos were published in Spanish under a Creative Commons License by En El Camino of Periodistas de a Pie on 3 June 2014 with support from the Open Society Foundations.

The English translation of this article has been made possible by an anonymous donation, gratefully received.

The translation of this article is dedicated to Patty Kelly, author of Lydia’s Open Door: Inside Mexico’s Most Modern Brothel. PT

Mexico’s Migrant Women, Trapped between Real and Imaginary Frontiers
By Ángeles Mariscal (EN EL CAMINO, PERIODISTAS DE A PIE)

Woman and Child, Mexico's southern border

Woman and Child, Mexico’s southern border

There’s a saying in southerm Mexico: Guatemalan women will do housework, Honduran women will be slaves in the bars or cantinas and the Salvadoran women are invisible. Migrant women are trapped between the physical frontier in Soconusco, Chiapas and the all-too-real yet blurry frontier where abuse, discrimination and stigmatization exist. In southern Mexico, these women aren’t anything other than what their origins – and society – has condemned them to be.

First Stigma: The “Servant” Women

Central American Woman, Mexico's Southern Border

Central American Woman, Mexico’s Southern Border

It is Sunday. Miguel Hidalgo Park in the center of Tapachula – about 275 kilometers from the border with Guatemala – is packed. Dozens of women, most of them young, almost all adolescents, show off embroidered, multi-colored garments with designs and fabrics typical of the neighboring country’s indigenous people. Taking each other by the hand, the Central American women walk round and around the central kiosk.

Some arrive early, their belongings in a suitcase or plastic bag. They sit on the flower boxes and there they wait. Rosa together with two other young women just this morning crossed the border between Mexico and Guatemala, using the bridge at the Tecún Uman border crossing. They paid Mexico’s National Migration Institute for the local visitor’s visa, permitted those who live along Guatemala’s border with Mexico.

This visa allows them to cross with some freedom in the border townships. But it doesn’t let them work in Mexico. It doesn’t escape their notice that business and work tie the residents to both countries and these links go back generations and filter across the frontier.

Rosa is sweating and tired. She has just sat down on a bench when an older woman who got out of a car approaches her. Talking together, they make a deal: 1,200 pesos per month (US$92) plus food. Sundays are days off, after she prepares breakfast for the family.

The woman begins to cross the park. Rosa says a quick goodbye to her friends and falls in behind the woman. Both get into the car. Rosa gets in the back, shy. She does not look up, she avoids eye contact. Long workdays await her as a quasi-slave where she has to sweep, clean, take care of somebody else’s children and make as if she were transparent.

The scene repeats itself in the morning, here and there in the park. In the afternoon, only the domestic workers who already have a job remain, enjoying their only day off.

Girls work here as well as young women. The Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center carried out a survey of domestic workers from Guatemala and found that almost half of those interviewed were 22 years old (49 percent). The other half were between 13 and 17 years old.

The Fray Matías Human Rights Center documented that the for many of the young domestic workers their expectation is to obtain funds that will let them return to their countries to continue their studies. Most only come for brief spells, but many remain trapped and return only occasionally to their native country.

There is no census or estimate about how many they are. They are a floating population and their work happens mostly out of sight, without a formal contract. Since colonial times, whether on haciendas or in homes, most of these women have naturalized the role of working as servants in the Soconusco of Chiapas

Alba has been in the Miguel Hidalgo Park since morning. She and her friends haven’t moved even though it’s been raining. Alba stands out a little more than the others. She says that she is 30 years old and that at the age of 8 she came to work in Tapachula. She is happy because they pay her 2,000 pesos per month (US$147). It’s hardly minimum wage even though her workday is twice as long as the 40 hours per week established under Mexican law.

On a regular day she wakes at 6:00, prepares breakfast, cleans, makes lunch, washes clothes, does the shopping, picks up the kitchen and irons. She has worked cleaning shops or restaurants. The pay is good, but they don’t give her a place to sleep.

“I like working in homes more,” she says, although she recognizes that she doesn’t always have her own place to sleep, like now, since she is working in a house in Colonia Solidaridad (a neighborhood inhabited by lower middle class people from Tapachula). Every night she sleeps on a mattress in the space between the kitchen and the dining room.

  • What do you do on your day off?
  • I help with breakfast and then I come to the park.
  • Do you go out to the cinema or a nearby beach?
  • No.
  • Why?
  • It pains me to say… the people look at us and they don’t like us being there, probably because of how we dress.

Alba says that in her country she could earn a little more money doing the same work. She prefers to stay in Tapachula because, she says, “in Guatemala there is a lot of violence.”

In Miguel Hidalgo Park, Tapachula

In Miguel Hidalgo Park, Tapachula

Santiago Martínez Junco, training coordinator for the Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center explains that under Mexican law the Guatemalan domestic workers are in a system of quasi-slavery.

“The worldview of society in the region – which stigmatizes how people look – puts a mark on migrant women. If you are Guatemalan your niche is domestic work, cleaning, or agriculture. Honduran, Salvadoran and Nicaraguan women are preferred in sex work, or to attract customers in snack joints and restaurants,” he says.

The work of the Guatemalan women has been made invisible because it happens in the private sphere. This situation makes them highly vulnerable.

There are no contracts. There’s no justification when somebody is fired, a strategy often used so as to not pay wages. Sometimes they are charged for food and the average salary is between 1,200 to 1,500 pesos per month (on average, around US$100), and for about 72 hours per week.

Coupled to that, he says that society encloses them or excludes them from everyday life and places where they can meet.

“Most domestic workers don’t know anywhere but Miguel Hidalgo Park and the streets that they take to get to work. For example, people from Tapachula asked the authorities to build the Bicentennial Park because the place was “filled with chapines” (a name given to people from Guatemala). And it’s not like they can go to other places, but society pushes them out, excludes them and they feel social pressure.”

At the end of the day – confirms Santiago Martínez – they have to live in the same feudal situation that’s existed and continues to exist in this region, used exclusively as servants, not allowed to develop in other areas of work.

On Sundays, when they go for a rest in the Miguel Hidalgo Park, the Fray Matías Human Rights Center tries to make them aware of, and train them in, their rights, Martínez says.

“We tell them about their labor rights. We give them workshops in some techniques that they choose. We work dynamically so as to strengthen their self-esteem, so that they can take on their rights… sometimes we go out together in the city, go for walks to nearby places so that they begin to shed their fear and so they feel safer.”

Stigma Number Two: The Fantasy Sellers

Her body gyrates on the stage against the sonic backdrop of an accordion, trumpets and drums. Rhythmic and sensual – can a sound by itself be sensual? – the sound of cumbia accompanying the dancer while she takes off her clothes.

Under the stage at low tables, other women press their bodies to the punters, drink with them, some dance fending off the hands of those who have paid, telling them they are here “just to dance”, keeping them away from sex. In a different space on the same stage, some play billiards with the locals, exaggerating how they play to accentuate the curves of their bodies.

The owner of the place, a fifty-year old woman originally from the southern Mexican border lets us look around and speak with the dancers in their dressing rooms. She insists: in this nightclub there is no sex trade “here we just sell fantasies.”

“Many men only want to see them undress, dance with them. Mostly they speak with the catrachas (Hondurans) because they say they are the prettiest. But we also have dancers from Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. Most don’t even have sex. They just want to spend some time distracted from their daily lives.”

For sex, she says, other places exist.

I go to stage rear. Pinned to the door of the room filled with mirrors where the women arrange themselves are the house rules: how many times one has to dance and strip on stage; the number of beers the women need to drink with the punters (200 per week minimum). This activity is called fichar (literally, to sign up). The owner argues from each “sign up” or beer, half of the earnings goes to the women.

Inside the dressing rooms the fantasy for sale outside crumbles. Before going on stage Melani rushes down some beef soup and a soft drink. She says that she has not eaten all day because she’s having problems with her partner, who is jealous of her. And because he doesn’t get along well with her kids, all of whom are under eighteen.

She is 23 and she has three children. She says that she had to leave her country in 2009 because of “problems” with her previous partner. “He got involved with the Maras and well, you know, there’s a lot of violence in my country… I had to leave.” Melani left her children with her mother for a while. But when she got established in Tapachula, she brought them to live with her.

Her front teeth look decayed. She has visible scars on her calves, some of them recent. When she sees me notice them she pulls on her skin color Lycra, and on top of that she puts the clothes she will take off, piece by piece, on stage.

“He hits me because he is jealous of the clients who look at me. (He worked for a spell as a barman in the nightclub where she works.) But this is how I support my kids, how I support him. What does he want? That I work depending on a shop? They don’t even give us jobs in shops because they say we steal. And when they do give us jobs in stores the pay is miserable. I said to him, you hooked up with a Honduran. This is the life of a Honduran woman. It’s just that there they treat us well and pay us better.”

Everyday Melani confronts the stigma of being a “catracha”, a pejorative term tagged to the women who come from her country, who are seen as expert lovers. Her physique gives her away – broad hips, long legs, svelte waist – and does not let her fade into the background. “If I get into a taxi, the driver wants to grab my legs. If I work in a store, the owner wants to mess with me,” she laments.

In the dressing room’s neon light, the dancers put on their make-up, their long wigs, struggle into Lycra and clothes adjusted for cellulitis, a fat stomach, scars and stretch marks left by motherhood. Once on stage, its semi-darkness helps them.

Luis Rey García Villagrán, activist and defender of the rights of sex workers, confirms that in Tapachula alone – the largest city of the border region known as the Soconusco – there are more than 15 tolerance zones and around 200 centers where they can practice prostitution openly and in private: voluntarily or through networks of people involved in sexual exploitation.

Villagrán represents the Centro de Dignificación Humana and he thinks that this activity is taking place with the permission of society and government. “Here in this region any 5 year old child has seen that in front of her house, at her school, on her daily walk that there’s a snack joint, a bar, a brothel and a cabaret. I have seen Central American women enter and leave these places. This situation has become natural and has enslaved women in this activity.

Migrant women have become part of daily life in Soconusco. The population lives with them. Locals, including public servants visit the places where they work. As to their migratory status, they are only asked about it when there is an attempt to extort them.

Stigma Number Three: The Women Who Will Do Anything

Aidé runs a rooming house located 10 streets from the center of Tapachula. This means she charges rent or lets out rooms with a plastic roof for those who request her services. Most of the residents are migrants without legal status in Mexico.

On arriving at the meeting with Aidé, I bump into a dozen migrants and their guide who are stuffed into one of the rooms. She is not intimidated. She says the migrants will leave the place in one or two days. Someone will come to pick them up so they can continue on their way.

She has been in jail accused of trafficking in people for the purposes of sexual exploitation. After three years inside she managed to get out.

“I had just been deported from the United States and I needed to continue sending money to my two kids who were still in El Salvador. A friend contracted me to manage a bar. The place wasn’t mine and the only thing I saw was that the servers did not get their money. If the girls want to mess with the clients in the rooms that’s their problem. It’s their way of earning a living. Nobody forces them.”

Aidé – instead of the bar’s owner – was arrested during a crackdown. Some of the women working in this bar located in Ciudad Hidalgo were minors. However, after a few days they were deported to their country of origin and nobody faced criminal charges for people trafficking. That’s how Aidé regained her freedom.

“When I got out I tried to cross to the United States again. But I couldn’t. They returned me again and that’s where you find me now, trapped in this place, without the power to move forward and without the power to return to my country,” she narrates with a grim countenance and brusque gestures that contrast against her clear, lovable eyes, her curly hair and petite figure.

A table, two chairs, an individual bed and a booming television sat on a little piece of furniture barely fit in the room. A 10-year old child does not take her eyes off the television. She is the daughter of a friend who is staying with her while she is looking for somewhere to live.

“I am resigned to living here in Tapachula or in Cacahoatán or whatever’s nearby. It’s all the same. But working as what? Here, Salvadorans can’t work as domestics because the woman thinks we are going to steal her husband. We look for work as employees and the boss wants to mess with us. In the bars they think we are going to rob or kill the clients,” she says while she readies a small case filled with varnishes and instruments to do nails, a service she provides at home and also at a small beauty salon in the area. She thinks this job is one of the few she can do where they don’t discriminate.

The migrant women who live in southern Mexico live lives trapped between a physical frontier that stops them from moving freely and a real border produced by discrimination, abuse, and social stigma that erases them as people.

Angeles Mariscal

Text: Ángeles Mariscal, for Periodistas de A Pie

I am an independent journalist, founder of the Chiapas Paralelo website. I contribute to CNN México and El Financiero. I run the Colegio de Comunicadores y Periodistas de Chiapas (CCOPECH). To have the conditions necessary for a dignified life in the places we come from is a right, and to migrate when they don’t exist is also a right. It’s from that perspective that I cover the subject of migration.

Moyses

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.

Translation: Patrick Timmons, for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project.

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.

Tagged , , ,

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.

 

Tagged ,

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.

Tagged

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.

Tagged , , , , , ,

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).

Tagged , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Migrant Roundup in the Southeast of Mexico: 450 Detainees (Blanche Petrich, LA JORNADA)

This article was first published in La Jornada at 2230 on Thursday 1 May 2014. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP).

Migrant Roundup in the Southeast of Mexico: 450 Detainees
By Blanche Petrich (LA JORNADA)

In a second round up in less than 12 hours of Central American migrants in Southern Mexico, around 150 undocumented migrants who were spending the night in the train station of Palenque, Chiapas were detained on Thursday 1 May between 0400 and 0500 by officers from the National Migration Institute (INM) and Federal Police (PF).

Hundreds more Central American citizens managed to avoid the operation and sought safety in Palenque’s migrant refuge. The detainees were taken to Palenque’s migrant detention facility and it is feared they will be deported in the next few hours. Up to publication, and as reported by telephone to this newspaper by the director of The 72 migrant shelter in Tenosique, Tabasco, Fray Tomás González Castillo, no humanitarian organization, either governmental or non-governmental, has managed to gain access to the detainees to assess the state of their health or ensure respect for their rights.

A few hours earlier, at 1900 on Wednesday 30 April, in Emiliano Zapata, a township in Tabasco not far from Palenque, Chiapas, another 300 Central Americans were detained and transferred overnight to Tapachula where another mass deportation operation is underway.

Since Easter Friday, when the so-called “migrant viacrucis” left Tenosique, federal, muncipal, and state security forces have used check points to block roads and railway lines traditionally used by migrants on their way north. Additionally, at strategic points where migrants jump the trains along, railway companies have posted more guards, partnering with several police forces, according to Fray González.

As a consequence, over the past two weeks several thousand migrants have been stranded and harrassed outside Tenosique, Palenque, Macuspana y la Chontalpa in Tabasco and in Las Choapas and Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.

Award-winning journalist Blanche Petrich reports for La Jornada. Follow her on Twitter @blanchepetrich. This article first appeared under the title, “Redadas contra migrantes en el sureste del país; suman 450 detenidos,” available at: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas/2014/05/01/detienen-en-nueva-redada-a-150-migrantes-mas-que-pernoctaban-en-chiapas-2313.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.

Tagged , , , ,

Ciudad Juárez’s Perverse Development: Knowledge City — Between Scholarly Pursuits and Private Interests (Sandra Rodríguez Nieto, EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

From the Center of Ciudad Juárez to UACJ's CIudad Universitaria. (Courtesy Google Maps)

From the Center of Ciudad Juárez to UACJ’s CIudad Universitaria. (Courtesy Google Maps)

This article was first published in El Diario de Juárez on 11 October 2011. It has been translated without permission for the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). There is no web accessible version of this article.

Translator’s Note: The translation of this article is dedicated to the memory of Regina Martínez Pérez, fearless Proceso reporter based in Xalapa, Veracruz, and documenter of public malfeasance, murdered on 28 April 2012. Her murder continues unpunished and is an ongoing source of embarrassment for authorities in the State of Veracruz, Mexico. PT

Ciudad Juárez’s Perverse Development: Knowledge City — Between Scholarly Pursuits and Private Interests
By Sandra Rodríguez Nieto (EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

Even though his classes begin at 0800, David Valles, 19, and a resident of Colonia Monumental, has to get up before 0600 so that he can take the Indiobús at 0640 from the Zona Centro. From there it takes him more than an hour to arrive at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez’s (UACJ) new southeast campus, 16kms from the southern limits of the border city.

Cristina Durón, 18, lives in Colonia Toribio Ortega, in the city’s southwest, and she also has to wake up around 0500 so that she can take a bus to the Centro Histórico. From there, she takes a bus that takes her to Avenida Tecnólogico and from there she jumps on another bus that takes an hour to get to the new buildings, located in what’s also known as “the City of Knowledge.”

According to UACJ administrators, the distance these students have to travel to the Ciudad Universitaria is a cost. But it’s also the only way the institution has to increase participation, minimize its educational shortfall, and increase enrolment rates from 28 to 55 percent of applicants.

For urban development experts, however, the UACJ’s location in that zone, bordering on private lands, is more a product of obeying the expansionist whims of politicians and realtors bent on Ciudad Juárez’s urban growth.

“The logic of expansionism and growth towards that zone explain its location in that zone. Its construction fails to consider costs related to infrastructure, equipment, commuting and security. The city cannot satisfy those needs,” said Pedro Cital, architect, private consultant in urban development and former deputy director of the city’s research and planning institution (IMIP).

According to Cital, one example of Knowledge City’s real-estate value is the stretch of highway to the new campus. Instead of building a 5km link to the existing Panamerican Highway, they built a new highway to the southeast, right beside land owned by private real estate developers.

“To build in this area, yes I think other interests were taken into consideration. The closest freeway connection for the University would be the Panamerican Highway, and the most logical route would be to open a street from there to the UACJ’s land. But that’s not what they did. Instead, they built a road from the southeast towards the university. So, it was built to power growth, bringing services and infrastructure that would make that area more viable for development,” Cital explains. For years he has questioned the expansionist model epitomized by Juárez’s development.

The new campus houses 2,500 UACJ students and 550 students from the Technological Institute of Ciudad Juárez (ITCJ).

According to José Antonio Lozoya, general coordinator of the UACJ’s new campus, the students must commute a total of sixteen kilometers to reach the campus.

Desert dominates that region’s landscape, where the opening of the Electrolux plant in 2005 accelerated urbanization. It’s interspersed by industrial parks, separated by deserted lots that, in the majority, remain empty and vandalized.

Around Fundadores Boulevard, almost total desolation exists, save for a few almost entirely vacant housing complexes.

The UACJ and the ITCJ provide free transport to students from various parts of the city. But Abigail García, IMIP’s planning coordinator, said that commuting times must be avoided, and should have been taken into consideration in the urban planning process.

“The students are the ones paying the price – because of the distance. We are trying to generate less commuting, so the people don’t spend so much time traveling. Look, they are young people, so they have to bear it. But it’s a high price to pay, and they have to be there all the day, in a place where there’s only the university,” García said.

Manuel Loera de la Rosa, director of Planning and Institutional Development at the UACJ said that the three hundred hectares owned by the University is just the first phase of the Ciudad Universitaria (CU) and that it was the only option to house an ambitious project to boost the enrollment numbers that Juárez requires.

He added that no other place turned out to be as cheap as that area, donated to the UACJ in 2001 by Chihuahua’s state government.

“Universities always have costs to bear. At the CU the great benefit is being able to offer education spaces in a timely fashion, opportunities that would not have emerged any other way,” Loera insisted in an interview.

‘Pressure, Juárez’s History’

UACJ’s location — as well as that of the ITCJ and other educational institutions in Knowledge City – is part of the San Isidro-Zaragoza development plan, totaling about 4,367 hectares. Promoted by the state government, the plan was approved by the Ciudad Juárez Council in 2007, during the first period in office of Mayor Héctor Murguía.

That year, 2007, also saw approval of the Eastern Development Plan (PPO XXI-II), broadening the city’s population distribution. The PPO XXI-II permitted urbanization and construction of residential areas seventeen kilometers from what were then the city’s limits.

These two development plans added to another three plans that had been approved since 2004: El Barreal and San Jerónimo in Juárez’s northwest, bordering New Mexico; and, the first stage of East XXI, in the southeast.

In total, and in just two years, the five plans added more than 14,600 hectares for possible urbanization, 66 percent more than the 22,123 hectares available in 2003. In every case the local government argued the need to provide housing for an estimated population rise of 100,000 people per year destined to work in the maquiladoras.

With the passing of the years, however, and just as the town planner’s had prophesied, a 2001 recession in the maquiladora lowered the population. The IMIP warned at the time of no evidence for so many homes, many of which now stand vacant.

The politics of Juárez’s expansion has been questioned by officials since 2003, when the Urban Development Master Plan established the need for greater density. The Master Plan says that the spread of the city has made it expensive and unsafe, and based on unsustainable resources for its infrastructure and equipment. This has generated problems for its identity and decayed its social structure.

“The logic behind investment behaviour in our region sees urban space as disposable. When investment moves to new, more prosperous, lucrative business districts, urban areas are left totally abandoned. In this context, the capital that’s left is underutilized or just abandoned. And with its desertion, the city’s image loses vitality and deteriorates,” the Master Plan says.

In terms of security, the same document states, “the accelerated growth of the city impacts the capacity to prevent crime.”

From the period between 2005 and 2007 when the majority of the development plans were approved, various sectors of the population warned that such expansion obeyed the interests of landowners with property ripe for, or close to, urbanization projects. As in San Jerónimo’s case, where the state and municipal governments have granted millions for investment in services, overwhelmingly in road construction.

Since 2007, an El Diario investigation has documented that along with land from state government and from the UACJ, there are more than 1,000 hectares owned by families of two former mayors: Manuel Quevedo and Jaime Bermúdez. In 1977 Quevedo was mayor and Bermúdez the city’s treasurer and they acquired thousands of hectares in the city’s southeast. In the last thirty years, Juárez’s urbanization has been directed towards that region.

According to César Mario Fuentes, a PhD in regional development and director of the Colegio de la Frontera (COLEF), the model used by the government to pay for public services like water, drainage, light and roads on far removed roads that result in “big business” for those types of landowners.

“I am unaware if there’s that intention, but unfortunately it has always been this way. It’s obvious that it has been a strategy traditionally employed by Ciudad Juárez’s large landowners who take advantage of public authority,” Fuentes said in 2007. The COLEF director is also the author of numerous academic studies about the region’s land market.

According to Loera, the first stage of the new UACJ campus required an inversion of 498 million pesos for the “basic infranstructure work” – drainage, light, water, roads – in addition to the construction and equipping of three buildings.

The director of the city’s land registry, Antonio Artalejo, estimated this week that the investment would spark a real estate “boom” and the construction of housing, services, and industries.

“If the 2008 economic crash had not happened, housing construction would be at its apogee about now,” Artalejo said.

In spite of the economic downturn, about five residential communities have been constructed in the area – all completely distant from each other – and in the public property registry land transfers have already occurred.

That is what entry 15 of book 5363 registers. In July 2011, the families of Quevedo and Bermúdez sold 37 hectares, located in the environs of Knowledge City – to a real estate company called HOH.

“Opening different areas of the city has definitely had much to do with pressure from landowners,” Cital said.

“It’s an obvious fact about the history of the city’s growth: one can identify the pressures that lead to growth,” the expert added.

Yesterday, the former mayors mentioned in this article could not be reached for comment.

‘Human Cost’

The Ciudad Universitaria coordinator said that 70 percent of the students come from southeastern neighborhoods, and that only 750 students come from father afield, like the west of the city.

But the distance is of such importance, Lozoya said, that upon it depends almost all the planning decisions, like class timetables and possible extra-curricular activities.

To support the students, the UACJ has contracted three transport companies that will carry 90 percent of the students in 27 old vehicles from nine points around the city. The most distant point is the one located by the Juárez Monument.

The ITCJ, on its behalf, will transfer the majority of students in four vehicles (of a more recent vintage). This service will only leave from Campus Uno, located on Avenida Tecnológico.

Even though they are free services, the UACJ students who live in the west of the city must occasionally wait for more than an hour because the only bus that goes to the city center quickly fills. If they have to leave campus early they have to wait for hours because the buses from the CU leave at two times: at 1400 and 2000.

The jokes arising from the distance have motivated a campaign by the CU coordinators who have taken phrases they can print on posters as a way of “fostering identity.”

So, students write: “When my mother told me I would go far, I didn’t know that she was referring to the CU.” Or, among other witticisms, “Typical: you are new in CU and when they ask you where you are from, you say: from Ciudad Juárez.” But the time spent in commuting, Abigail García says, is a human problem that, rather than being funny, diminishes the quality of personal and collective life.

“Principally, it undermines rest, the time you need to recuperate and that as far as we know, it damages health. The other thing that gets shunted aside is family life. Commuting takes up much of the day… We complain to ourselves that there’s a need for social cohesion, that there’s no neighborly integration, and that certain factors rupture this spirit of living together, and commuting is one part of that subject,” García said.

The need to find a place in Juárez at an institution of higher education is so great that not one of the students, even the most critical, expressed a desire to withdraw because of the distance.

Daniel Valles, for example, said that he hopes to change campus since his degree program is offered in the Institute of Social Sciences and Administration, about ten minutes from his home.

Cristina Durón added that one day she hopes to own a car. But Armando Salas, 19, also a Psychology student and a resident from the Avenida Las Torres neighborhood – near to CU – warned against owning a car: “I spend fifty pesos a day on gas, and because of the economic crisis that sucks.”

Prize-winning Journalist Sandra Rodríguez Nieto is currently a Neiman Fellow at Harvard. Her first book, La fábrica del crímen, relates the story of impunity in Ciudad Juárez during the height of the city’s recent violence. This article was first published under the title, “Ciudad del Conocimiento: Entre el interés escolar y el privado.”

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.

 

 

Tagged , , , , , , ,

A Voice from the Grave: Juárez, the Border’s Second Murder City (Armando Rodríguez, EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

This article was first published in El Diario de Juárez on 14 February 2005. It has been translated without permission by the Mexican Journalism Translation Project (MxJTP). There is no web-accessible version of the Spanish-language original.

This translation is dedicated to the work of journalist Sandra Rodríguez Nieto.

 

Translator’s Note: Armando Rodríguez Carreón, “El Choco,” was a veteran crime reporter for El Diario de Juárez until his violent murder in November 2008. You can read a portrait of El Choco by his colleague Martín Orquiz for Nuestra Aparente Rendición, here (unofficially translated into English for the MxJTP).

Rodríguez’s murder continues in impunity, with multiple failures in the investigation. El Choco’s unsolved case is one that marks Mexico as infamous for its inability, or unwillingness, to get to the bottom of journalists’ murders, meaning that it ranks number 7 on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index for 2014. In the Inter-American System of Human Rights, and pursuant to Mexico’s 1998 ratification of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR), the state has the international responsibility to investigate, prosecute, and punish human rights abuses, and provide reparations: among other human rights violations, Armando Rodríguez and his family have been denied access to justice for his murder, implying the state’s violation of a human rights treaty, the ACHR.

The MxJTP has translated this 2005 story by Rodríguez because the stories that place Mexico’s hard-hitting journalists at risk are themselves in danger of being forgotten. So, the act of translation can also be an act of recuperating the memory of the work of a slain journalist.

But on its own terms, Rodríguez’s February 2005 article is distinctive because it discusses different ways to count the violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, excavates the history of the city’s violence — a historical issue that he identifies as ever present but has changed over time — and because Rodríguez used sociological analysis to identify with a great degree of prescience Juárez’s oncoming descent into violence. This murderousness would, ultimately, consume him, too.

Even today, the Mexican government still disputes murder statistics and is still unable to reduce the country’s impunity rating. And, even though Rodríguez identified structural issues common to modernity that contributed to the rise in violence, less astute and overly descriptive commentators and analysts have sought only to explain violence in Mexico and specifically in Juárez through the lens of drug trafficking.

Specifically in regards Rodríguez’s murder, we still don’t know why he died or who killed him. But that shouldn’t mean that we ignore what he bequeathed us, his willingness to inform society of important events by writing journalism. PT.

A Voice from the Grave: Juárez, the Border’s Second Murder City
by Armando Rodríguez (EL DIARIO DE JUÁREZ)

SIDEBAR — MAIN STORY FOLLOWS…

– An investigation by El Diario, based on data from the Attorney General of the State of Baja California Norte, shows that of northern Mexico’s fourteen most important border cities, murders are most numerous in Tijuana: 705 cases from January 2003 to December 2004.

– Juárez took second place with 402 murders for the same period, approximately 17 murders per month.

– The study contrasts these figures with the number of murders during the same period in San Diego, California (127), while in El Paso there were just 33.

– The report notes that murders in Tamaulipas’s cities are less numerous than those of Juárez or Tijuana.

– Ciudad Juárez ranks second in northern Mexico’s border region in terms of violent homicides in the last two years.

– The cities with a low murder rate are: Nogales, Arizona, with just one murder in two years; Calexico, California, with two cases; and Hidalgo, Texas without a single murder over the same period.

– The Tamaulipas Government’s website (www.procutamps.gob.mx/portales/estadistica.asp) indicates that from January 2003 to October 2004, Nuevo Laredo registers 120 murders, 74 in Reynosa, and 65 in Matamoros.

– The president of the Center for Border Studies and the Promotion of Human Rights (CEFPRODHAC), Arturo Solís Gómez counts 189 homicides during 2004 in Tamaulipas’s border cities. And 70 of these can be tied to drug trafficking, according to data published by internet-based sources.

– The figures for Tamaulipas are still below those of Juárez and of Tijuana.

– The data clearly indicates that the Mexican side of the border is more violent than the U.S. side in every single case.

Crime and Society

Juárez is considered Mexico’s twelfth most unsafe city, according to the Fund for Public Security in Mexico’s States (FASP).

This ranking can be compared with the assessment made by the Federal Government’s Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL). The Ministry says that the border is the most violent area of the Republic.

The three cities in the country most overtaken by insecurity in proportion to their population size are: Juárez, San Luis Potosí and Acapulco. The report is currently [for 2005] being distributed on the webpage of Mexico City’s Attorney General: http://www.pgjdf.gob.mx/violencia.asp.

The SEDESOL report indicates that these three cities rank high in terms of murders, rapes, violent events, and suicides. When these violent events are added together, it means that cities can be compared against one another in terms of violence.

But the international business magazine, América Economia, suggests that the homicide index in Ciudad Juárez has registered a fall of 41.5 per cent over the last four years.

The magazine’s study, which was undertaken for business interests, declares that in 2001 there were 26 homicides per 100,000 residents, while in 2004 there were 15.2 homicides per 100,000 residents.

Ciudad Juárez’s murder statistics, compiled from the state district attorney’s autopsy records and compared with El Diario’s review of that data, demonstrate that in thirteen years there have been 2,957 violent homicides.

The crime figures have become more significant after the U.S. alerted its citizens to the wave of violence in Mexico’s border cities.

In Juárez, U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza said that insecurity in Mexico’s border region is a result of drug trafficking.

“We know very well that in certain cities there are growing tendencies for criminal activities, in some more than others, but the alert was for the length of the border and not just for one city,” he noted.

“I believe that Juárez is not one of the most violent cities in the Mexican Republic. The thing is that it has a bad reputation because of the deaths of women. Monterrey, Guadalajara, and Tijuana have more murders,” said Assistant District Attorney Flor Mireya Aguilar Casas.

She indicated that in spite of border cities’ problems with a floating population, statistically there’s evidence that they aren’t more dangerous nor are more bloody acts committed here.

“I don’t think it’s risky for a foreigner to come visit this city and I don’t think that there should be an imminent danger alert for these cities,” she added.

The Most Violent Year

Paso del Norte was established in 1659 and even before it was called Ciudad Juárez, in 1888 it had been struck by violence, a result of social movements leaving death in their wake and that have marked the city for life.

Historian and journalist Davíd Pérez López says in just a few days, in December 1846, there were 80 deaths on the Mexican side of the border, a consequence of the war against the United States, whose army had invaded Mexican territory.

When Ciudad Juárez was “seized” in 1911, he notes that 75 federal soldiers were murdered and 102 wounded, while among Madero’s supporters there were 160 deaths and 210 injured.

“There were other low points in wartime actions in Ciudad Juárez, like when Orozco’s supporters arrived in the city. Orozco had rebelled against Madero, and Villa fought against him: forty people died. That was in 1912,” Pérez López said.

Also in 1921, there was another social uprising in this region, known as Escobar’s Rebellion, totaling twenty violent deaths.

But in Ciudad Juárez’s recent history, and without there being a war, 1995 was the city’s year of violent deaths.

Coroner Enrique Silva Pérez said that during the ’80s, ten to twelve homicides started to happen each month.

But the medical specialist repeated that 1995 was Juárez’s most violent year. “I remember that in February ’94 we had eight murders. In February ’93 there were 6, but in February ’95 we had 34 murders,” he said. When the year ended, he noted that 294 people had been violently murdered.

In the country’s south, people get killed with machetes. It’s an overwhelming feature. But on the northern border, especially in Ciudad Juárez, murders happen with firearms, he said.

Ways to Die

When Dr. Silva Pérez began working in the ‘80s at the Coroner’s Office of Chihuahua’s Assistant District Attorney, violent murders numbered fewer than in recent years.

“Usually the cause of death was from a knife, from punches, or from firearm wounds,” the professional confirmed.

At the end of the ‘80s and the beginning of the ‘90s, gunshot murders increased and took first place as cause of death, responsible for about 60 or 70 percent of the total number of homicides.

At the same time, knife murders decreased, but in 1993 a new way to kill emerged: strangling murders or death by asphyxiation, principally crimes against women and executions related to organized crime, Dr. Silva Pérez added.

“The extreme violence began precisely with drug-related murders. Strangling is the cruelest way of dying because the victim suffers more.”

Silva Pérez indicated that gunshots have caused death but there are also postmortem lesions, like stab wounds, indicating extreme violence.

One of the most brutal cases the coroner remembers from his 24 years of work in the forensic service is of a couple and their baby who where murdered and then dismembered.

“There have been other similar cases, but the way they dismembered this woman showed that the person who did it was her lover,” he said.

In other cases, the victimizers tried to make their victims disappear, so they burned them. But careful, scientific work can show that the person did not die from being incinerated, he explained.

High-powered arms also destroy bodies.

“I’ve had to deal with cases of former police officers who were murdered by assault rifles. When we did the autopsy we could determine more than 70 wounds from high caliber bullets destroying the body, turning it into shreds,” he said.

The Causes of Crime

“Why did you do it?” the reporter asked a man who a day before had shot a sixty-year old car tire repairman from Salvárcar.

“Craziness,” Nicolás Frías Salas said, with a still uneasy look produced by alcohol and drugs.

For the Assistant District Attorney in the Northern Zone, Flor Mireya Aguilar Casas, the consumption of drugs and alcohol predominate as causal factors in violent homicides.

Another factor influencing murders in Ciudad Juárez is familial disintegration, decay, or the decline of values – social, religious, cultural — inherent in human beings, she said.

“Gangs are another social problem that cause crimes, along with economic questions, extreme poverty and lack of work.”

The Assistant District Attorney confirmed that Ciudad Juárez has a high index of gang-related intentional murders.

“In criminal cases, gang members committed the majority of homicides currently in judicial proceedings,” she said.

She does not believe that impunity encourages crime: “whoever commits violent murder does not believe that their behavior will go unpunished, although that might be the case in a minority of cases.” [Translator’s Note: former El Diario reporter Sandra Rodríguez Nieto’s study of an interfamilial killing in Ciudad Juárez, La fábrica del crimen (Planeta, 2012) contradicts and disproves the Assistant District Attorney’s general contention. PT]

A Sick Society

For the sociologist from the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez (UACJ), chaired professor Alonso Herrera Robles, homicides can be seen as part of a social pathology (sickness or abnormality) and affect industrial society’s like Ciudad Juárez.

This type of collective group, one that is entering modernity, may be labeled an at-risk-society, he added.

He mentioned that Juárez, thanks to the arrival of the maquiladora industry in the mid-1960s, experienced a series of structural changes. And the massive incorporation of female labor in the production process was one of those overwhelming characteristics.

“It changed all the structures and the social organization of production and impacted society,” Herrera said.

The director of public safety for the city, Juan Salgado Vázquez, agreed: “Juárez has grown at a giant’s pace, and this growth has had an important bearing on criminal activity.”

“The city has grown faster than the capacity to plan, to build, to construct a safe environment for its inhabitants. The problem is not just with security but with its infrastructure and all of its services,” he stated.

“The city’s growth has overtaken out capacity to respond,” he said.

Added to growth issues, the city has a large number of families, whose men and women have been working for thirty years. We haven’t found a way to raise their children. This means that there are more people disposed to commit crimes, he suggested.

He said that one of the solutions to the problem is that there needs to be greater participation from civil society. Other solutions might be found in reforms or legal mechanisms to protect vulnerable groups, like children, the elderly, women, and indigenous people.

“The problem is now that violent murders aren’t dealt with either by the authorities or by civil society. So what’s happening is that these acts of violence are becoming part of our daily life and making the culture one of violence,” he expressed.

“This is going to become cultural, it’s going to become part of daily life, just like what has happened in other cities with protracted wars, like in some Colombian cities.”

For the professor, the presence of more police officers in the city is just palliative. There can be more police but this does not mean they are better organized.

“The social costs of this progress, or of technical advances and development, are reflected in pathologies like homicide, and it appears as a by-product,” he warned.

Some writers have called this phenomenon, “modernity’s perverse consequences,” he said.

Journalist Armando Rodríguez reported for El Diario until his murder on 13 November 2008. This article first appeared bearing the title, “Es Juárez la segunda frontera en homicidios.” It is not available on the Internet.

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.

Tagged , , , , ,