American Reporter Correspondent
Do you start with the decapitated heads of police officers found in local ice cream coolers, the kindergarten kids threatened with mass kidnappings, the vigilantes who have emailed the media to prove they are serious about murdering "criminals," or do you just give up explaining it in Ciudad Juàrez, Mexico, a mile from Interstate 10 and just down the road from El Paso?.
The day before Barack Obama became President, a packed house at the Cinemark theatre saw the award-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire" with its tale of urban decay, hope, and incessant violence.
When many of the folks returned to their cars in the parking lot with license tags from Chihuahua State in Mexico for the ride home, they probably thought that the film was a local documentary.
"My seven-year-old son watched the inauguration of President Obama in school, but for me, I just want to get home from work in time to get him home safely, help with his homework, and stay safely in our house," an El Paso nurse's aide we'll call "Rosa" told me about her trip back to Juàrez each day.
Tour groups in this cross-border metroplex of 2.4 million people now emphasize boot and saddle shops and cowboy ghost towns on the Texas side instead of evening Mexican dining and daylight Emiliano Zapata tours on the Juàrez side.
Families blog in the El Paso Times about how they have stopped visiting relatives just across the border, and the cars from Mexico in the huge lot outside the Super Wal-Mart on Gateway West Blvd. thin out at dusk.
In Spanish, Comando Ciudadano por Juàrez, or CCJ, emailed that local newspaper yesterday to prove they exist. The plea would be a pathetic Rodney Dangerfield lack of respect if the issue had not been so deadly.
The self-proclaimed vigilante group is apparently sick and tired of Chihuahua Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez saying they don't exist.She keeps telling the press there is no vigilante movement aimed at retaliating against a drug and gang culture which killed more than 1,600 people last year, and a federal government and local police authority which seems part eunuch and part AWOL.
The CCJ said it was setting a July 5, 2009, deadline for some government action or it would kill a criminal a day: "The government wants to believe that we don't exist," a line at the end of the CCJ announcement read. "But we are closer than they think." The 10-point manifesto issued Tuesday was the second communication from an organization that was unheard of prior to its initial threat, made on Jan. 15.
"The CCJ declares war on the thieves, kidnappers and extortionists that have put in risk the rights of citizens and reiterates its plan to terminate the life of a criminal every 24 hours for the good of all Juarenses," the document stated in Spanish.
The manifesto, sent via e-mail to the El Paso Times and other media, was signed by leaders identified only as Comandante Abraham and Sub-Comandante Gabriel "Durito" (Hard).
If order is not restored by midnight July 5, "the CCJ will take to the streets with its army of men and women to do what the government could not," the group stated.
Classes at a pre-kindergarten were canceled Tuesday when a note threatening the lives of children was posted at the school's entrance, demanding about $5,000, the Norte newspaper reported. That seemed like a reprise of a bizarre attempt by drug cartels to build community support in November, in a perverse way, but threatening to kill or kidnap young school children if the local government did not honor promised salary bonuses to school teachers. Maybe bizarre is too mild a term.
After four frozen heads were apparently found by local residents in ice cream and ice machine coolers in Juàrez and its suburbs in a little more than a week, the trend continued at a record pace in the young new year.
The El Paso Times reported that "the headless body of a man, the second in as many days, was found Wednesday in a canal in the community of Juàrez y Reforma. possibly linked to three severed heads left the day before in an ice chest in Guadalupe Distrito Bravos, police said."
The attorney general told a local radio show Wednesday that the alleged vigilantes are just locals trying to stir up more trouble and destabilize legitimate efforts by local, committed public servants to clean up the drug gangs and narco culture which has swept northern Mexico in recent years.
Just see the headlines pro and con of outgoing President George Bush's commutation of sentences of two U.S. drug agents involved in a controversial incident in the region, to feel the international heat on the issue. Yet for more than 800,000 El Paso residents and perhaps 1.4 million more in Juàrez, it is day-to-day horror, fear, frustration, and domestic disruption which noone not living there could fathom;.
The current mayor of Juàrez, José Reyes Ferrìz - who must live with the knowledge that colleagues in other cities have fled their posts, become puppets of drug lords, or been assassinated - surveys the daily carjackings, kidnappings of U.S. factory managers, neighborhood turf wars, and personal violence to innocent residents, and tells citizens just to "maintain faith in the authorities."
In the past 48 hours, while asking his constituents to stay cool, calm and loyal, these things, among others, happened:
The attempted kidnapping of a U.S. "maquiladora" (border factory) manager was foiled at the last second; a 13-year-old boy was shot and seriously wounded in a drive-by shooting; three more headless bodies were found in a Juàrez suburb; a local urban anthropologist says weapons, laundered cash, Colombian, and Dominican drug dealers all interact sometimes with impunity along the Tex-Mex border here, and numerous people were carjacked and held for ransom.
Thinking back to the urban plight and breakdown in law and order in the Indian "Slum Dog" film, I could only think that life mimics art which mimics life which makes reality so, so, much stranger than fiction.
How else do you rationally explain that in what sounds like a last, desperate act of frustration to do "something"?: To have its threats taken seriously, the purported vigilantes - the CCJ in effect are now saying something like "Okay guys, now, well, now you are pushing us toooo far! You are forcing our hand."
If the threat to kill "a criminal a day" by July 5th wasn't serious enough, the CCJ email said that if authorities don't crack down, they would be forced to "form a website with information on our group by February 2nd!"