ustxtxb_obs_2010_08_06_50_00008-00000_000.pdf

Page 27

by

FOLLOW the latest news from Jaurez in the El Paso Times at bdo.com/juaept WATCH a collection of video news clips from Juarez at tx1o.com/juacomp Eleven-year-old Ana was playing in the park near her house. Her family sat on the front lawn and sipped cold drinks and talked about their day. Suddenly, the crackle of automatic gunfire rang out. With the chatter, the chirping and the sound of traffic muted by the blasts, Ana sped home on her bicycle. There she found big men with big guns. The grass and cement had turned red with blood. Her aunt, her uncle and a cousin lay dying. Her mother, shot four times in the back, wished in silent agony that her daughter would run. But Ana, a long-limbed girl with dark hair to her waist, was frozen with terror. One of the gunmen held an AK-47 against her temple. Time stood still. The most remarkable event of that summer day in Ciudad Juarez was not that people were executed. No, that happens every day. The most remarkable thing was that one of the killers showed mercy. “One of them said, ‘Don’t kill her,”‘ recalled Juan, Ana’s father, who asked that his family’s real names not be used for fear of retaliation. Ana and her brother, father and permanently disabled mother survived. But they knew they had to leave Juarez. THE FAMILY HAD BOUGHT it’s home in a governmentfunded neighborhood 15 years earlier. Since then, they say, the neighborhood had become increasingly derelict. Strangers came and went at all hours. New neighbors moved in who weren’t like the working-class families who originally bought into the neighborhood. Juan says that the gunmen on that day in 2009 pulled up in white SUVs. They said they were looking for the owner of a red truck. His brother-in-law had a red truck, and now Juan thinks he was the target. “People were scared,” Juan said. “There was another red truck in the neighborhood, maybe they confused it. I don’t know. It happened so fast. There were more than 100 shots fired.” He was doing repairs inside the house when the shooting started. “While all this was happening, there was a military checkpoint at the corner and they didn’t do anything,” Juan added. “The ambulance took 40 minutes to arrive.” Afterward, Juan went to the police station to see if they’d done anything. He says they told him not to cause trouble or the gunmen would return to kill him and his family. “They said, ‘Leave it alone, let it all go, leave all your material things behind while you’re still alive:” Juan said. Juan, like thousands of other Juarez residents, faced a dilemma. Gunmen had attacked his family and could come back. The police offered no protection, telling him to leave town or die. The 40-year-old had a “laser visa,” a border-crossing card that allowed him and his family to visit the United States. After spending weeks in hiding, and once his wife could be moved from a Juarez hospital, the family crossed the border to El Paso and safety. He took his wife to University Hospital for further treatment, where he slept in his car in the parking lot. The night guards found him and called Annunciation House, a shelter for asylum seekers. Thus began Juan’s life as a refugee, caught in a purgatory grown from the worst in politics, crime and international law. THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN Ciudad Juarez and El Paso is a complicated tale of two cities. They are linked by history, family and trade. A steel wall forms a barrier along parts of the border, but bridges connect the two inextricably. Juarez, home to 1.3 million people, once offered attractive shopping and a vibrant nightlife; its residents enjoyed the numerous city parks. El Paso, population 750,000, offered many American-style comforts and cheaper household goods. For centuries residents of El Paso and Juarez considered themselves part of the same community, if not the same country. Over the last four years, though, drug wars have divided the cities like never before. Juarez businesses are boarded up, many with “For Sale” signs. No one is buying. After 5 p.m., only those with urgent business are out and about. Most people are hiding in their homes, praying that gunmen will not pay a visit. Juarez, the epicenter of Mexico’s drug war, has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world; El Paso remains one of the safest. The violence started after conservative President Felipe Calderon took office on Dec. 1, 2006. Soon afterward, the United States put enormous pressure on Mexico to crack down on drug trafficking, and Calderon deployed thousands of soldiers to the border. Two years later, the U.S. gave Mexico $1.4 billion in military and intelligence equipment under the Merida Initiative, signed by President George W. Bush, to fight the cartels. Since then, the violence has escalated. The focus has been on Juarez, where experts say at least 70 percent of the cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines consumed in America cross the border. That crackdown has sparked drug wars in Mexico that have claimed more than 25,000 lives since 2006including more than 6,000 in Juarez since 2008. The rate of killing continues to climb, with more and more innocent people in the crossfire. Competing gangs of narco-traffickers grow more and more creative in how they kill, maim and terrorize anyone in their way, or anyone who might be, or anyone who simply knows someone who may or may not be involved in the drug war. The trafficker’s dictum is simple, Plata o Plomo, “Money or Lead.” On July 15, the cartels used their first car bomb in Juarez, apparently detonated by a cell phone, killing two police officers and a medic and signaling yet another escalation in tactics. Four days later, gunmen opened fire on a birthday party in Torreon, in Coahuila, a state on the Texas border. Seventeen people were killed, and 18 others were wounded in a hail of gunfire. They were reportedly in their 20s and 30s and had organized the party on Facebook. At a meeting of Mexican and U.S. health officials in El Paso on July 21, Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferris said the drug violence “has become a public-health issue and is one of the main causes of death in the region.” No one knows how many Juarez residents have fled the city because of the violence, but estimates range from 100,000 to 500,000. 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG