A voice from Juarez, Guillermo Cervantes Ph. D.
2008 changed our lives. During its first weeks executions began to take place. Alarmed, we wanted to believe these were just isolated events, underworld quarrels prone to end soon and everything would be just as it was before. However, the killings did not stop, and increasingly became more sadistic and violent. We would wake up just to find bodies hanging from our bridges as we drove to work or to take our children to school. The local media had its hands full and was barely able to cover some of the bloodiest events.
Our city was filled with banners, the infamous narco mantas. With utterly vulgar vocabulary and nearly illiterate ways, different factions were taking credit for several crimes, seized the opportunity to terrorize opponents and threatened authorities. Terror increased: we knew many more deaths were yet to come.
It was until March the 27th that Operativo Conjunto Chihuahua begun (later renamed to Operación Coordinada). It was a joint project between the three levels of government. It aimed to fight against criminal organizations throughout the city.
From their tribunes, our emboldened leaders asserted that organized crime was to be subdued shortly; they said they were about to prove that “no criminal group will be able to withstand the force of the Mexican State.” Naively, they imagined that, by means of magic, the mere presence of thousands of soldiers would be enough to pacify the city. Dreamers.
Our streets were then taken by army and the Federal Preventive Police (PFP). The total number of troops in our city amounts to more than 7500 elements. In official statements, spokesmen began to chant the triumphs of the operation: so many drug seizures, thousands of weapons secured, so many detainees. However, our reality was different: the killings did not decrease, quite the opposite.
The arrival of the army and the PFP did not frighten gunmen. The homicide rate increased fivefold with the arrival of the Federals, according to Oscar Acosta, president of our local Law Bar. Also multiplied were abuse and violations of individual rights. Juarenses soon began to be victims of kidnapping and extortion, criminal practices hitherto unknown in Ciudad Juárez. Sadly, our supposed protectors were more concerned with milking our citizens than with pursuing criminals.
Here, the law seems to be applied in an arbitrary and selective way. Astonished, we saw how the full weight of the law fell over an individual who found an endangered turtle while criminals arrested in fraganti, with rifle in hand, were released “for lack of evidence.” Confessions obtained under torture, individuals were being arrested for minor crimes and prosecuted for felonies. It all evidences the lack of proper training within our police forces. In order to get a scapegoat they can destroy families and lives; while our authorities would seek a spotlight to announce the arrest of ‘another dangerous murderer.’ Grotesque spectacle, mockery of a judicial circus in which the perpetrator receives the benefit of the doubt and is released, while the small citizen is prosecuted to the full extent of the law, for crimes he did not commit. Carnival in which a confessed murderer, repentant and with tears in his eyes, admits having killed an underage woman and the system just decides to let him go, before the incredulous gaze of us all.
Bullies, our leaders provide us with figures that do not correspond at all with our reality, they boast of doing what no one before had done; they set deadlines and goals they cannot meet, in an attempt toshow the character and determination they lack. Simulators. Later, they exculpate themselves and blame each other: state government blames federal government, which in turn blames municipal government. All and none are guilty. They are more concerned with keeping their respective political parties in power than with stopping this carnage. They have bodyguards, security forces and armored vehicles, they live in fortresses, and we do not. Certainly our perceptions of reality are very different.
More than two hundred thirty thousand people have fled the city (1), more than ten thousand businesses closed down, over one hundred thousand abandoned homes, more than five thousand homicides. Orphans and widows. Broken families, empty schools, communities displaced. Lonely streets, ghost towns –such as those located in the Valley of Juárez. A city mutilated, lost in grief and despair. These are the true achievements in this war against drugs.
Our streets are the scene of barbaric acts. No matter what time of day it is, nor the place. The city belongs to organized crime warlords and to their henchmen. Owners of lives and people, they do not hesitate to engage their assault rifles. Holders of indescribable cruelty. They compete with each other by increasing their ruthlessness. Our streets are silent witnesses of heinous crimes. Laying on them we find heads, dismembered bodies. Mowed lives of men and women, young and old, rich and poor. Bullet casings planted on the pavement, explosives detonated on our main streets.
No precinct or barrier can contain them. No sense of respect for human life can moderate them. They can disrupt a religious ceremony and a sporting event, just the same. Restaurants and nightclubs have been a forum for their thirst for blood. Our children have learned to recognize different firearms just by their particular sounds.
We may be students, teachers, street artists, lawyers, physicians, public transport operators, mechanical workers or consular staff. No one is out of reach, no one is too big or too small to be a victim of their anger, of their viciousness. No one can stop them. They are invisible. They operate in broad daylight and nobody sees them and nobody can find them. They are invisible. No one can see, nobody wants to see, nobody has seen. The only thing visible is the death and destruction path left in its wake.
More than seven thousand military and police officers roam our streets, yet little has been done little to stop this slaughter. Empty official speeches, vain promises. Rulers who minimize the pain and suffering of those who inhabit Ciudad Juárez.
Full of hope, the people of Ciudad Juarez received the new law enforcement elements. Optimistic, young and old watched the convoys’ parade on their grand entrance through the city.
Camps emerged throughout the city to house the troops. Thousands of elements were patrolling our streets. Large sums were taken out of our municipal budget to cover for their expenses; which is why many public projects had to be postponed or abandoned.
Everywhere roadblocks emerged. At will, pedestrians and drivers were stopped and frisked. The streets became clogged and vehicle traffic was hindered. Groups of soldiers roamed the streets. With the help of magical gadgets that allowed them to guess who was hiding drugs, weapons, bodies and money, they could choose those to be frisked. At first, people believed that it was a necessary evil: a temporary discomfort while the criminals were tracked down and put in place. It was a simulation exercise in which official motorcades were promenading down our streets. Our city now provides an urban landscape previously reserved for countries at war.
Official vehicles roamed the streets, speeding, causing accidents and always blaming the unfortunate driver who crossed their path.
Instead of sinking; kidnapping, extortion, murder, and abductions increased alarmingly. That magical gadget was used as an excuse for stopping vehicles and breaking into homes without warrants. Violations of individual rights became our daily bread.
The law enforcement officers were beating and abducting citizens without offering explanations. Some of them have not been seen again. Files against soldiers and federal officers were on the rise, although most of the abuse was never reported for fear of retaliation. In press conferences, their superiors denied the accusations or offered to make bad apples pay, then just forgot about it.
Municipal budget was being used to pay the salaries of those who would become the main predators of Juarenses.
With complete freedom, elements of the Federal Preventive Police pillaged and plundered, becoming licensed thugs: drivers were threatened with being stripped of their vehicles if they didn’t pay large sums of money; businessmen were threatened with being charged of fictional crimes if they refused to yield to their greed. Homes were looted before the eyes of its inhabitants.
Our rulers, blind and indifferent to the situation, allowed our human rights to be abused day after day.
They arrived more than two years ago, yet our situation continues to worsen. No solid results. Criminals and henchmen always manage to elude the police, sometimes before their eyes.
Under the cover of official impunity, our supposed protectors became our main scourge.
Guillermo Cervantes, Ph. D. : http://www.ciudadjuarez2008-2010.com/