from Frontera NorteSur
Virtually forgotten amid the ongoing slaughter engulfing Ciudad Juárez, a long-running land battle involving members of one of Mexico’s most prominent families drags on with no immediate resolution. Located in a now-strategically important zone on the northwest edge of Ciudad Juárez, the future of hundreds of acres is the object of contention between businessmen Pedro and Jorge Zaragoza and about two dozen families who call the dusty patch of land known as Granjas de Lomas de Poleo home.
The once-isolated collection of very modest homes and family ranches could one day become an important annex to the developing, binational border city of Santa Teresa-Jeronimo promoted by the Mexican government and state government of New Mexico.
Lawyers for the Zaragozas contend the land in Lomas de Poleo was legally purchased by the family decades ago, but residents—some of whom count decades residing on the disputed parcel—say they have the right to the property by virtue of a 1975 decree issued by Mexico’s federal Agrarian Reform Secretariat.
With papers in hand and accompanied by supporters from the Zapatista-inspired Other Campaign, Lomas de Poleo residents appeared in a Chihuahua City federal court Jan. 8 to defend their case. The embattled Ciudad Juárez residents were represented by Barbara Zamora, a well-known Mexico City human rights attorney.
No lawyer for the Zaragozas showed up in the Chihuahua City courtroom, and the legal battle continues. In subsequent comments to Ciudad Juárez’s El Diario newspaper, Zaragoza attorney Juan Manuel Alfaro said an earlier court ruling that resulted in an order for the Federal Electricity Commission to remove electrical poles proved his clients had legal claim to the land.
While a war of words continues in the courts and in the press, Lomas de Poleo residents accuse Zaragoza henchmen of waging a low-intensity war designed to force people from their homes.
In a press statement released this week, Lomas de Poleo resisters charged the Zaragozas and collaboraters with being behind the destruction of dozens of homes and a church, the cutting off of electricty and the encirclement of the semi-rural neighborhood with fences, towers and armed guards since 2003.
In the most recent incident that reportedly occurred on Jan. 7, a group of men destroyed the home of Salvador Aguero. A woman accompanying the agressors allegedly attacked Liliana Flores, who was attempting to defend Aguero’s home. Earlier, on New Year’s Eve, three men allegedly beat up 71-year-old Cruz Reza Saenz after entering the elderly man’s home.
Before leaving, the assailants then reportedly tied up Reza, stole the victim’s valuables and hurled threats.
Lomas de Poleo residents and their supporters also say Zaragoza representatives are pressuring people to abandon their homes in return for payments amounting to about $3,700. Denying the charges, Zaragoza lawyer Alfaro maintains no one is being pressured. According to Alfaro, as many as 60 families have accepted indemnification and an offer to relocate on a separate 26-acre piece of property owned by the Zaragozas.
In their most recent statement, Lomas de Poleo residents contended that powerful businessmen immersed in “false development” were attempting to turn the mesa-dwellers into “throwaway human beings.”
In a challenge to prevailing notions of progress and development, the residents said their homesteads overlooking the Paso del Norte borderland were “viable economic projects that in last 30 years have allowed us to become perhaps the last promoters and defenders of the environment on the border.”
The statement urged Chihuahua Governor José Reyes Baeza and Ciudad Juárez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz to guarantee the rule of law in Lomas de Poleo and Ciudad Juárez. Otherwise, the residents said, they will look for justice abroad if attacks against them do not stop.
In fact, support for the residents’ cause has been expressed by various indiviudals and organizations in Europe, Latin America and the United States in recent months. Last year, a group of residents’ supporters from Las Cruces, NM, briefly discussed the land battle with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, whose administration has been busy pushing the Santa Teresa-Jeronimo development not far from Lomas de Poleo.
The growing importance of this region of the border was demonstrated once again when Mexican President Felipe Calderón reportedly asked US President-elect Barack Obama during their recent meeting to help facilitate the relocation of commerical train traffic away from downtown Ciudad Juárez to Santa Teresa-Jeronimo.
This piece first appeared Jan. 16 on Frontera NorteSur.
From our Daily Report:
Mexico: home destroyed at contested Juárez barrio
World War 4 Report, Dec. 5, 2008
Chiapas: Zapatistas to host “Festival of Dignified Rage”
World War 4 Report, Dec. 6, 2008
Reprinted by World War 4 Report, Feb. 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution