American Reporter Correspondent
By early Sunday, 11 more residents of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, had been slain in a 20-hour period, including the sixth police officer killed this year in growing drug cartel violence. More than 65 police officers have been murdered in the border city of 1.4 million in the past year. Too often, U.S. and Mexican media have been AWOL from coverage.
As if by accident, I learned today that even the Juarez Mayor is living not in Mexico, but across the fence here in the United States and commuting to his office in Chihuahua State.
I hadn't intended in doing a follow up to my Juarez narco crime spree story of three days ago, since the killings, mutilated bodies, taunting death notes, and random street crime is not only ignored on the USA side of the border for the most part, but since my syndicated outrage here and my personal blog garnered a grand total of one reader response.
After reading a litany of new crimes, police helicopter assaults, city hall epithets, and carjackings in the local Spanish-language daily El Diario, and relating the stories - all buried inside the hefty Saturday edition (in contrast to dwindling U.S. dailies) - my wife egged me on. She said, "You have to tell it again. Maybe something written by an outsider to this area for whom these events are still shocking, will shake some sense into some authorities, somewhere." Since she was a darned good police reporter and feature writer in her day, I'll try again.
The overall decline in traditional journalistic coverage of Juarez events makes me wonder if the entire city , or the entire Borderland" region is locked up by chamber of commerce interests. It's as if when you don't report it, it never happened.
The story of the sixth cop killed this new year was buried on page three of El Diario. The same story was below the fold in four paragraphs of crime news in the "B" section of the El Paso Times.
The four local network news affiliates hardly mention Juarez news. The two Hispanic networks cover the press conferences and crime but mix it in with other Latin American news.
Establishing a visible nightly disconnect between happy Texas life and other universe Mexican life does not happen by accident. It needs to be reinforced in subtle media ways.
The Texas tv stations on their local weather forecasts feature cities and hamlets throughout Texas and New Mexico with just the word "Juarez" posted below El Paso as a reference point. The exception is the local ABC-TV affiliate which amazingly has a total green void beneath the United States Border, but features El Paso and its U.S. suburbs, and acts as if a huge ocean bordered the United States from California to Brownsville, Texas.
The news story about the 11 new killings during the 20 hours preceding print deadlines got a bit higher play on the El Paso Times second section's front page, but still was not quite important enough to make it to the main section of the paper or perhaps even Page One.
From time to time newspapers in Dallas and Los Angeles have done long-form investigative reports on Juarez but they are few and far between.
In an long overdue editorial today the El Paso Times called for more attention to the violence, but definitely from the aspect of thankfulness that most of the trouble has not spilled over to the El Paso side of the fence, and how bad the violence is for trade, business, entertainment, tourism and bridge toll revenue for the city.
Perhaps they let the cat out of the bag, or I'm just not a local so don't know this stuff, but in a reference I could not find confirmed anywhere else in print in the past year, the Times editorial indicated that in addition to Juarez residents taking motel rooms in El Paso with their families to escape the stress and violence every weekend, even Juarez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz was living in Texas.
Reyes, 47, who holds a master's degree from Notre Dame - the one in Indiana - has fired more than 300 cops in the last year (reporting that bank robberies went down when they were dismissed), and kept himself alive with tight security and pressure on Mexico City and Chihuahua for advanced arms, choppers, and SWAT teams - and then more of the same.
Perhaps the best overall view of the situation and Reyes. efforts was in a December dispatch by three Los Angeles Times reporters led by Ken Ellingwood who traveled to Juarez.
Two days before they published their dispatch, Dec. 20th, 17 people were murdered in one day (at the height of the crack epidemic, 21 werre murdered in Los Angeles on one weekend). Police report at least 1,600 deaths last year in Juarez, and estimate that even as the economy worsens or perhaps because of it 3,000 new Mexican families arrive in Ciudad Juarez each month.
The metro Juarez-El Paso area probably tops 2.4 million in total population, and the sheer nature and number of competing drug gang and other crimes seems to have numbed local senses. No neighborhood is safe, no profession, no store, no age group. In my earlier report I noted at least four heads were found in ice cream and ice coolers in the past week, and an alleged vigilante group had threatened to kill "one criminal a day" if the government did not stem the violence.
I also need to correct an item I had exactly 180 degrees wrong. I had reported that narco-terrorists had threatened to kidnap school children if struggling teachers did not receive their promised 2008 pay bonuses. It turns out the drug lords and their henchmen threatened to harm kids, including those in kindergarten, if the school teachers did not pay their bonuses directly to the gangs in neighborhood racketeering rings to "protect" the children.
Considering the Times editorial I glanced around my motel parking lot on the Texas side of the border and noticed mostly new and shiny F-150s, Nissan Muranos, and Volkswagen Passats with Chihuahua license tags, numbering perhaps four out of every ten cars. On weekday nights the number might be one in ten. At the nearby Andale restaurant, birthdays, business dinners, lovers in nooks and crannies, and strolling mariachis keeps the popular Mexican establishment busy, again, with many of those who would stay in Juarez and many Texans who would go to Mexico for a night out, now opting for the U.S. venue.
In the fine, and brave reporting of the Los Angeles Times (see link below) it turns out that the only growth industry in Juarez is the morgue and the medical examiner's office that can now handle 110 bodies at a time. They are hiring more doctors, and received increased funding from Chihuahua State and the Distrito Federal (Mexico City). The reporters wrote:
"The killings here are carried out in a style best described as baroque, with bodies hung headless from bridges, stuffed upside down in giant stew pots, lined up next to a school's playing field. Often, they are accompanied by taunting, handwritten messages, the hit man's equivalent of an end-zone dance.
"In a country that each month finds new ways to scare itself with violence, Ciudad Juarez has become emblematic of how nasty things can get."
The Juarez newspapers yesterday proudly published "pe
rp walk" photos and public relations shots of marijuana looking like 2,800 pounds of baled hay in front of new short take off and landing planes and assault helicopters. Early today the El Paso tv stations aired - but not at the top of the news - an "all time record" confiscation of more than 7,000 pounds of pot in an El Paso warehouse near the Mexican border.
The entire media dance reminds me of my old days in Key West when drug dealers used to tip off authorities themselves to intercept caches of marijuana, sometimes hauled by rival gangs, while hard drugs took other routes. The suspicion that the entire U.S.-Mexico border is a cocaine and heroine conduit, along with the hardware for thousands of neighborhood meth amphetamine labs, arms, terrorists, "coyote" people smugglers, and cartel maneuvers is supported by each day's events.
Friday I drove up to the mountainside campus of the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and watched the kids between classes studying on the lawns in a balmy 70-degree West Texas sun. I heard not one word of English spoken. I looked over the southern horizon and urban sprawl that had long ago obscured the rolling Rio Grande and the once-green undulations which must have made for prime grazing and farmland and endless beauty.
On this day the sprawl might have been the same as landing in Newark or Atlanta or Denver except that an unseen divide of culture, ignorance, and denial split the area right down the center.