Ciudad Juárez: escalating attacks on activists

The sister of a murdered woman from Ciudad Juárez is the latest activist in the border city to suffer an aggression against her person or property. On the evening of Feb. 16, armed men set fire to the house of Malu García Andrade, while she was attending a hunger strike/protest encampment in support of other human rights activists under siege. No one was injured in the fire, but Garcia’s home suffered serious damages.

“I fear for the lives of my children, my mother and my own,” García told the Mexican press after the arson attack. “The government has ignored the recommendations of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that ordered protective measures for my family. That’s why I hold the state government responsible for what happens to me.”

A leading member of the group “May Our Daughters Return Home,” García is the sister of Lilia Alejandra Garcia Andrade, a young woman who was abducted, raped, tortured and then murdered in Ciudad Juárez in February 2001. Malu Garcia and other members of her organization have previously complained of receiving threats related to their anti-femicide activism.

The blaze at Malu Garcia’s residence happened almost to the day of the 10th anniversary of Lilia Alejandra’s murder, and at a moment when the older sister was attending the protest in support of the Reyes family currently underway in front of the Ciudad Juárez offices of the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office.

In recent days, the family of murdered army critic and human rights activist Josephine Reyes has been under severe attack. On Feb. 7, armed men kidnapped Josephine’s brother Elias, sister Malena and Luisa Ornelas, the wife of Elias Reyes. Nothing has been heard from the trio.

On Feb. 15, one day before the fire at Malu Garcia’s house, arsonists burned down the home of family matriarch Sara Reyes, which was located about 300 feet from a Mexican army post. Last August, Josephine’s brother Ruben Reyes also was murdered.

The attacks against the Reyes family have all taken place in the Juárez Valley, a rural area south of the city proper.

In addition to members of the Reyes clan, hundreds of other people have suffered murders or disappearance during the past three years in the Juárez Valley, which was settled by New Mexican refugees who fled south after the US occupied their land in the 19th century. Due to the extreme violence of recent years, much of the local population is once again in the refugee mode.

Many observers attribute the slaughter to competition between competing criminal bands for domination of strategic, cross-border smuggling routes, but some analysts suggest other motives such as possession of prime real estate for international bridges and energy pipelines could be behind what has amounted to a Balkans-like mass population removal.

“It’s only a question of time to see who (businessmen) will benefit from the depopulated lands,” wrote Ciudad Juárez sociologist Carlos Murillo, in the wake of the fire at Malu Garcia’s residence.

Despite years of publicity about the violence, as well as the repeated denunciations of residents and human rights activists, violent attacks continue to plague the Juarez Valley; few suspects are ever detained.

Indeed, as residents and activists repeatedly stress, the attacks take place under the noses of army/police patrols and in a zone where regular checkpoints supposedly control movements.

A fertile valley once internationally known for its cotton production now “shines in desolation and the stench of the death,” Murillo wrote.

As far as the decade-old murder of Lilia Alejandra Garcia goes, no one has been arrested for the crime.

Residents of both Ciudad Juárez and El Paso plan a demonstration against the latest wave of attacks on human rights activists and their family members, and against violence and militarization in general. The protest is scheduled for high noon on Friday, February 18, at the Bridge of Americas between the two sister cities.

From Frontera NorteSur, Feb. 17

See our last posts on Mexico and the narco wars.

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