from Frontera NorteSur

If anything could be said about 2010 in Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua, it might be stated that any semblance of human rights flew out the window. Ushered in with the January murder of Juarez Valley human rights defender and army critic Josefina Reyes, the year drew to a close with the December slaying of activist Marisela Escobedo in the state capital of Chihuahua City, a crime which was captured on camera and transmitted across the world via the Internet.

Despite the immediate outrage provoked by the murder of Escobedo, who had spent more than two years protesting the disappearance and murder of her daughter in Ciudad Juarez, gunmen soon not only burned down the business of Escobedo’s male partner, but also kidnapped and murdered the man’s brother in the beleaguered border city.

Four of Escobedo‚s surviving relatives took the hint and hightailed it across the Rio Bravo to El Paso, where they are expected to seek political asylum.

From January onward, the killing machine greased by the mechanics of the underworld roared non-stop. The slaughter of 14 young people in Ciudad Juárez’s Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood plunged the troubled city and Mexico into deepened crisis. Villas de Salvarcar popularized the word “youthcide” [jovenicidio] in the national vocabulary. Additional massacres at house parties, in bars and on public streets kept the public in a perpetual state of terror.

The Calderon administration unveiled a reconstruction plan for Ciudad Juárez, “We are all Juárez,” and put the Federal Police instead of the army in charge of the city‚s security. Yet the killing intensified, more people fled and the once-vibrant business/tourist and residential districts of Ciudad Juárez fell into an eye-grabbing decay.

Tourism Ministry statistics obtained by Ciudad Juárez’s Diario newspaper via Mexico’s Freedom of Information Act, reported that hotel occupancy plummeted from 447,034 people from January to October 2007 to 310,000 people during the same period in 2010.

The crash surely would have been much worse. Some establishments managed to stay afloat thanks to the Federal Police officers in need of lodging and the involuntary guests from across Mexico seeking US residency who were forced by the US government to stay in Ciudad Juárez while completing their approval process.

“We don’t have visitors coming for border tourism, or for shopping or for realizing cultural and sporting activities,” said Jorge RuĂ­z Carres, president of the Ciudad Juárez Hotel and Motel Association. “That type of visit is almost non-existent.”

Added to the factory lay-offs related to the global financial melt-down and the financial losses from extortion and robbery, the disappearance of tourist revenues from the local economy will be felt for a long time.

In 2010 international media devoted much reporting to the violence that engulfed Ciudad Juárez, blamed on the conflict between the Juárez and Sinaloa syndicates, but less international attention was given to the war also battering many other parts of the state of Chihuahua.

Nobody really knows for sure how many people perished in the course of the year. Citing official numbers from the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office, the Reforma news agency reported 5,212 people were murdered in the state between Jan. 1 and Dec. 19 of 2010. The authorities blamed organzied crime for the bulk of killings, or 3,766 homicides, according to Reforma.

Violence hit hard the state capital of Chihuahua City, where 488 people were reportedly slain just between the months of May and August. In a city where extreme insecurity should imply at least a modicum of government security response, the brazen murder of Marisela Escobedo in front of Chihuahua state government offices and in plain public view was quite noteworthy.

The public security crisis had its repercussions on the political scene. In July, a minority of eligible Chihuahua voters elected CĂ©sar Duarte of the Institutional Revolutionary Party to the governorship and chose HĂ©ctor “Teto” MurguĂ­a (Ciudad Juárez mayor 2004-2007) for a second try at leading an embattled municipality.

As he was preparing to leave office, Ciudad Juárez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz created a stir by accusing outgoing Governor José Reyes Baeza of abandoning Ciudad Juárez to the wolves during the past three years. Others criticized Reyes Ferriz for making untimely remarks and shirking his own responsibilities for the crisis.

The atmosphere surrounding the political transition got uglier. Media-savvy kidnappers snatched Mario González, the brother of former Chihuahua State Attorney General Patricia González, and released a series of videotaped “confessions” in which González, surrounded by a group of armed, hooded men, detailed the alleged participation of his sister in murder and crime. He named individuals supposedly connected to femicides, publicly tarred members of the political class-including former Governor Reyes Baeza— with accusations of illicit activities, and fueled new doubts among a public increasingly fed up with the political system.

A key player in the US Agency for International Development’s program to reform Mexico’s legal system, Patricia González was also a partner in the efforts of the outgoing Richardson administration in neighboring New Mexico to expand legal, trade and other ties with Chihuahua.

González challenged the credibility of statements her brother made under extreme duress and offered to sacrifice herself for his life. No matter. Mario González was executed and, despite the arrests of suspects allegedly behind the kidnap/murder, the scandal was largely forgotten amid fresh headlines publicizing an endless slew of new murders and crimes.

Other crucial events occurred in 2010 that could influence developments in 2011. Perhaps most significantly, civil society began stirring and emerging as an independent voice in a socio-political melodrama dominated by business groups, politicians, urban and rural bosses, and government and private security forces.

In the northern Chihuahua farming town of Ascension, thousands of residents rose up against kidnappers, killed two suspected criminals, disarmed police accused of corruption and temporarily occupied city hall. In December, thousands of doctors and health care workers carried out a one-day work stoppage in Ciudad Juárez to protest criminal attacks on members of their profession and the overall public safety situation in their city.

Galvanized into action by the Villas de Salvarcar massacre, groups of youth, especially from the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez took to the streets to protest death and uphold life.

In one such action on Oct. 29, 19-year-old José Dario Alvarez was shot in the back by members of the Federal Police. Alvarez survived but was left physically impaired- possibly for life.

The murder of Marisela Escobedo sparked a wave of protest across Mexico and the world, eliciting condemnations from the European Union and the Organization of American States‚ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

Civil society organizations from the US, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Spain, Ireland, and the Philippines joined hundreds of individuals and groups from Ciudad Juarez and Mexico in signing on to a December 20 statement that demanded a genuine investigation of the activist‚s murder, protection for members of the Escobedo family and government compliance with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ 2009 sentence related to the murders of women in Ciudad Juárez.

The statement read in part: “More than 50 million poor people, more than 7 million young people that don‚t work or study, more than 3,000 murders this year in Ciudad Juárez, more than 10,000 orphans, hunger, and unemployment are definitive evidence that we have failed as a society.”

Tracing Ciudad Juárez’s and Mexico’s troubles to corruption, myopia, authoritarianism, patronage politics, impunity, and an ineffective citizenry, the Dec. 20 statement declared, “A society in peace is built on freedom, truth and justice.”

Widespread protests against the Escobedo assassination continued into the holiday season. In Chihuahua City, thousands of candles that had been placed at the murder scene to honor the fallen activist were mysteriously removed but then quickly replaced by enraged citizens and activists. Decorated with altars, the scene outside the state government complex soon resembled a shrine.

In California, activist groups including Centro Azteca, Amnesty International and the Mexican American Political Association plan a Dec. 30 protest at the Mexican Consulate in San Francisco.

“We are demanding that the government of Mexico stop protecting murderers and drug cartels and instead stand up to protect the women, children and other innocents of Mexico,” read a flier announcing the protest.

A former Chihuahua state and federal lawmaker, columnist Victor Quintana wrote that Escobedo’s murder could be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Quintana contended that Marisela Escobedo’s relentless pursuit of justice was now spreading to many sectors in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua.

Escobedo’s example, Quintana wrote, could inspire a new determination to “rebel for life.”

Expect more grassroots mobilizations in 2011. For instance, on Jan. 29, near the date of the first anniversary of the Villas de Salvarcar slaughter, citizen groups in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez area plan a joint, binational protest at the borderline dividing the common and bloodied land they inhabit.


This story first ran Dec. 29 on Frontera NorteSur.

From our Daily Report:

Mexico: activist murdered, survivors harassed
World War 4 Report, Dec. 21, 2010

See also:

Demanding Justice for Missing Migrants
from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, June 2010

Media Misreadings of the Border Violence
by Kent Paterson, Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, May 2010

from Frontera NorteSur
World War 4 Report, December 2009

Reprinted by World War 4 Report, January 1, 2011
Reprinting permissible with attribution