Juarez Violence Spikes

October 31, 2014

A spate of murders has Ciudad Juarez once again on edge. As October drew to a close, the northern Mexican border city had racked up more than 40 homicides for the month.

While authorities downplayed the toll, arguing that the body count was far lower than the number of slayings committed during the so-called narco war of 2008-2012, when more than 11,000 people were murdered in and around Juarez, a good share of the latest violence struck hard in areas that had been considered relatively secure for more than two years-and in broad daylight.

For instance, a man described as about 45 years of age was shot to death outside the Rio Grande Mall during business hours, triggering panic among customers on October 17.  A high speed automobile chase on Tecnologico Avenue in the city’s Golden Zone October 23 ended with the shooting deaths of two men and a young woman, whose bodywork made her resemble Spiderwoman, almost in front of a federal court building.

The incident caused morning chaos and backed up traffic past noon in one of the most heavily transited zones of the city. The two male victims were identified as Gilberto Lopez Mendoza and Omar Antonio Ochoa Jimenez, while the female victim was tentatively named as Gabriela Figueroa, a 23-year-old bar employee who was originally from Venezuela.

Yet another killing that grabbed the public’s attention-and criticism-happened on Sunday, October 26,  when 44-year-old Luis Flores was shot in the face while waiting at a bus stop- again in broad daylight- in downtown Juarez. The gravely wounded man managed to run into a pharmacy amid cries for help, but was left unattended and bleeding profusely for a lengthy time until a Red Cross ambulance arrived.
Flores, whose anguished face was captured staring into a photographer’s lens as he sat bleeding on the pharmacy’s floor, subsequently died of his wounds.

Ciudad Juarez Civil Protection Director Fernando Mota Allen was later quoted as saying the Red Cross’ ambulances had no gasoline at the time of the attack on Flores.

Meanwhile, violence surged in the rural Juarez Valley, one of the hotspots of the 2008-2012 war and an ongoing point of contention in the lucrative smuggling business that flows through the valley and into Texas, a trade that could intensify once the new Guadalupe-Tornillo international bridge is finished and opened for traffic.

On October 27, three men were pulled bound and gagged from a vehicle, forced onto their knees and executed with high-powered guns in front of the town park of San Ysidro.  Earlier in the month, the leader of an Institutional Revolutionary Party branch in the Juarez Valley, Gerardo Gamez Hinojosa, fled to El Paso seeking political asylum. Accompanied by his family, Gamez claimed he had been repeatedly robbed, extorted and threatened.

In October, the U.S. Department of State updated a travel alert for Ciudad Juarez, cautioning visitors to stay within certain zones of the city and restricting the mobility of its own consular employees.
Law enforcement officials blamed October’s blood on the inherent violence of the smuggling trade as well as the competition over control of the street-level drug business in Juarez.

In response to mounting public alarm, Chihuahua State Prosecutor Jorge Enrique Gonzalez Nicolas announced the redeployment of mixed state and municipal police units. The state law official placed the spike in violence in a historical context.

“This has never been a calm city, even during the past century,” Gonzalez said.  “(Juarez) is a border city where there is contraband and drug trafficking, putting it in a condition of violence, but the standards we maintain today give the people tranquility.”

Cesar Augusto Peniche, Chihuahua state delegate for the federal attorney general’s office, said “important detentions” of criminal leaders during the past two years had created friction within underworld ranks, with splintered groups lacking centralized leadership now battling each other.

“More than confrontations, what we see are internal struggles within these groups,” Peniche said.

Yet,  it’s not completely clear to what degree the detentions this year of the two purported leaders of the underworld organizations that waged war in Juarez from 2008 to 2012, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman of the Sinaloa Cartel and Vicente “El Viceroy” Carrillo Fuentes of the Juarez Cartel, have to do with the latest outbreaks of violence.

Differing accounts exist over the relative power of each organization in “post-war” Juarez and, in the case of Carrillo Fuentes, whether the old capo was even still at the helm of the crime group when he was arrested in Torreon earlier this month.

One thing is certain: neither detention has put an end to the drug business or the willingness of new generations to risk life and limb for easy money, as recent seizures of drugs at the local border crossings by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) attest.

On October 25, the CBP seized 84 lbs. of marijuana at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry.  Two days later, border inspectors uncovered 12.4 lbs. of cocaine in a car attempting to pass through an El Paso border crossing. Overall, CBP officers confiscated 664.29 lbs. of marijuana at the El Paso Port of Entry during the last weekend of October.

A 28-year-old man from Chihuahua City, David Humberto Leal Torres, was arrested in the alleged Santa Teresa smuggling attempt, while a 21-year-old El Pasoan, Petra Lizette Reyes, was detained in the cocaine case, according to the CBP.

The recent amounts of drugs reported seized by federal agents  likely represent just a small fraction of the volume of illegal drug shipments crossing the Juarez-El Paso-New Mexico border.

Besides gangland-style violence, social and gender violence continued to haunt Juarez. Early on the morning of October 29, the body of an unidentified woman estimated at between 25 and 30 years of age was found on a dirt road on the southeast edge of the city. Initial reports indicated the woman had possibly been beaten to death with a large stone; at least five of October’s homicide victims were women.

On October 26, music teacher and Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez symphony member Issai Hernandez Diaz allegedly stabbed to death his 32-year-old wife, Nancy Lobo Guerrero, at the couple’s home in a middle-class subdivision of the city. Two young girls, one seven years old and the other a baby of only five months, were left without parents after their mother was murdered and father jailed for the crime.
A popular teacher, Nancy Lobo taught sixth-graders at the Abraham Gonzalez Elementary School.  Students, parents and staff of the school were emotionally devastated by the young educator’s slaying.

“This is a very grave, regrettable act,” said UACJ Rector Ricardo Duarte Jaquez. “According to the information we have, the responsible person is one with a mental disorder.”

October’s violence erupted at a very sensitive time for Juarez. For the first time in four years, the traditional Juarez Fair was held, with upwards of 200,000 reportedly attending the first days of the fiesta. Also for the first time in years, organized tours of the Mexican border city were launched from neighboring El Paso .

In another sign of revival, the old Juarez Market on September 16 Avenue organized a Day of the Dead event for the weekend of October 31-November 2, with a special invitation to U.S. neighbors.
In the fall of 2014, daily life in Juarez presented many contradictions, with popular restaurants doing a brisk business again and events like the tequila and jazz festivals picking up steam. Regularly, live bands played outdoors for appreciative crowds in the city’s downtown.

But the recent episodes of violence rattled the public, prompting criticisms of security policies-or the lack thereof-from criminologists, political leaders and the citizenry in general.

Insisting that Juarez was continuing on the path of recuperation, Chihuahua Governor Cesar Duarte said security policies were not set in stone and could be adjusted according to the circumstances. Duarte also stressed pending business investments as the big answer to the city’s ills.

“I hope to have more gains, more employment, more education,” Duarte said. “This is what should be done to get at the root of the problem. There is no other solution.”

In October, Duarte’s administration published large, color display ads in Juarez newspapers that showed piles of guns and grenades below a headline claiming the securing of 45,675 arms. A closer reading of the message revealed that the confiscated items included about 3,000 guns or clips, 80 grenades and explosive devices and more than 42,000 bullets.

“We can now say that Chihuahua is safe,” the ad proclaimed.

On Wednesday, October 29, Duarte’s top cop, State Prosecutor Jorge Gonzalez, was put on the hot seat of the Chihuahua State Congress. Under sharp questioning from some legislators, whose statements broke down along party lines, Gonzalez spent hours in the session facing the music.

Gonzalez testified that the Juarez violence has not exceeded an average of 37 slayings per month, while 50 percent of the murders committed statewide are resolved.

Lawmaker Cesar Jauregui Moreno, coordinator for the National Action Party fraction in the state legislature, criticized Gonzalez for maintaining that homicide rates in Ciudad Juarez and other parts of the state are well below the numbers of 2010- the most violent year on record for Chihuahua in recent times.

“Chihuahua continues being an insecure state, distinguished by the high rate of murders in the state,” Jauregui said. “They are right that (2010 and 2014) are not comparable, but Chihuahua continues being one of the most (insecure) states in the country plus ranking third place in the number of homicides.”

Another lawmaker, Hortensia Aragon Castillo, representative of the left opposition, likewise took a jab at the official security posture.

“It worries us that insecurity continues being generated not only in some geographically isolated zones of the state, such as Guachochi and Guadalupe y Calvo, but precisely in Ciudad Juarez and the state capital (Chihuahua City).”

As if Aragon’s concerns needed further elaboration, seven people were shot to death in two separate attacks in Chihuahua City only hours after State Prosecutor Gonzalez concluded his appearance before state legislators.

Additional sources: Arrobajuarez.com, October 31, 2014 Lapolaka.com, October 27, 29 and 30, 2014. Norte, October 19, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 2014. Articles by Miguel Vargas, Felix A. Gonzalez and editorial staff.
El Diario de Juarez, October 18, 24, 28 and 30, 2014. Articles by Salvador Castro, Patricia Mayorga, Francisco Chavez, L. Hernandez, M. Orquiz, and editorial staff. Kvia. com, October 24 and 25, 2014. Article by Angela Kocherga. Juarez-El Paso Now, October 2014.  

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