He might have been talking about the earth as a whole but here, I can’t help but feel a bit mournful for Juarez.
Juarez, I’ve often thought back to that road trip in 2004 and credited YOU with giving me the ‘travel bug’. Yea, it’s a border town, a skanky good-for-nothing cheap booze loud live music & entertainment and readily available drugs for tourists but hell for residents town. But it was an experience, a very memorable one.
So why now, do I use a Jim Morrison quote to verbalize the abuse you currently suffer? It just fits. While I was in El Paso I met a guy named Daniel Romero (awesome name btw), I was trying to fix
the tailpipe of my Cavalier, he gave me a wire coathanger – exactly what I needed.
We smoked a cigar I had kicking around.. and then.. seriously, it started to hail. At first rain fell lightly on us.. then turned to pellets. He told me I should probably go home since it was late. True enough, I think it was 2am on a Wednesday night.
The next day I called him and we decided to go out in the evening. I took Gary along with me, we went to a bar in El Paso, it was pretty dead (I think it was a Thursday) then he told us, most people go to the Mexican side to party. So we went, and ended up at The Doors bar. A place solely decorated with the band’s memorabilia and claimed that Jim Morrison himself had once performed there. We played pool.
I wonder if that place is still standing or.. if it’s been gutted too 😦
Crosses mark the burial site of unclaimed people, mostly victims of violent crimes, at the San Rafael cemetery on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez.
Why is it so hard to flee Mexico’s drug war?
Ciudad Juarez has become so dangerous that thousands are trying to leave. But Canada is accepting a shrinking number of refugees, arguing the country is safe
“There’s no way I would go back,” Kuchle says. “Only crazy people can live over there.”
More than 5,100 homicides later[since 2008], the drug war has changed the way almost everyone lives in this city of 1.3 million. The poor hide behind closed doors. The wealthy have fled.
The exodus might be even greater if more were able to come to Canada. But our doors have all but closed.
Take a walk downtown along famous Juárez Ave., which, on one side, leads over the bridge to El Paso. Pharmacist José Monsiváis is sitting in a wooden chair facing the sidewalk doing, well, nothing.
He says half of the businesses on the strip, many of them cantinas, bars and restaurants, have closed. There are no customers, especially American ones, anymore.
The local chamber of commerce says 6,000 businesses have closed in the past nine months, many of them because of extortion. This city has gone from zero to 20 per cent unemployment in two years.
Part of the reason is the global recession. But, Monsiváis insists, “the main reason is the violence in Juárez. A lot of people are afraid to come here.”
Monsiváis says business is down 50 per cent. “I can’t pay the bills, food, gasoline.”
The violence has affected his family in other ways, too. “When I go home I am afraid because I don’t know if the sicarios (drug cartel hit men) will come or there will be executions in front of us. We stay inside the house on weekends or holidays.”
Victoria Chavez, 24, a worker in one of the many cheap-labour manufacturing plants called maquiladoras, says staff are no longer allowed outside during their breaks. The hundreds of maquiladoras — for companies such as Honeywell, Johnson & Johnson and Canada’s Bombardier Recreational Products — are the lifeblood of Juárez, where workers, mostly migrants, often toil for as little as $10 a day.
“We can’t go to parties or to nightclubs anymore,”says 19-year-old Fabián Robles, interviewed in east Juárez, across the street from the spot where three men were killed in the parking lot of a department store.“We’re afraid of house parties too ever since those teenagers were killed.”
On Jan. 30, 16 people, mostly teens, were slaughtered as they celebrated a birthday in a house in south Juárez.
“We’re afraid we’ll get shot on the street or in the discos,” says a 29-year-old employee of a funeral home currently being forced to pay extortion money. “We’re afraid of the checkpoints because (the police) steal our money or cellphones.”
Another sign of growing social breakdown are reports that the sicarios are getting younger. With such a high unemployment rate, there are some70,000 youth who are unemployed and not in school. One newspaper reported a recent poll of more than 4,000 students in Chihuahua state showed that 40 per cent aspired to become sicarios.
Then a video surfaced on the Internet, with the title “Sicario of Ciudad Juárez,” showing a boy, about 5 years old, brandishing a 9-millimetre handgun and saying to the camera, “I’m an assassin of Juárez, now I have some work to do.” After it was reported in the media YouTube took it down.
“It’s like the war in Bosnia,” declares lawyer Gustavo De la Rosa Hickerson, ombudsman for the human rights commission of the State of Chihuahua. “It’s destroying families, people, the city itself.”
He’s a harsh critic of President Felipe Calderón’s hardline war on Mexico’s vast and entrenched drug lords. The fight has led to the capture and killing of a number of them. But many more have escaped justice. One analysis shows that 98 per cent of those arrested go free. The war has also led to the deaths of about 23,000 people across the country. Calderón says most of these were somehow involved inthe drug trade.
De la Rosa says there’s little evidence to back that up.
“Mexico needs a war against hunger, poverty, bad health, education. It doesn’t need a war against drugs.”
De la Rosa says that more than 70,000 homes in Juárez have been abandoned, with more than 100,000 people having left for Texas or other cities in Mexico. (Other estimates suggest 250,000 have left.)
The human rights advocate counts himself among the escapees. He moved to El Paso last fall, after an incident while driving near his suburban home. When he was stopped at a red light, a man pulled up, got out and pointed a gun. “Be careful,” he sneered, “or I’ll kill you.”
Not long after, someone came to De la Rosa’s house to tell him his name was on a hit list. Then, one of his bodyguards was killed.
Who was putting his life in danger, De la Rosa can’t be sure. But his job has put him at odds with the country’s military. Thousands of soldiers were sent to Juárez to strike at the cartels. De la Rosa was investigating dozens of complaints of abuse by soldiers, from illegal detention to torture to disappearances.
In April, most of soldiers were replaced by federal police agents, whose ranks have been vastly increased by Calderón.
He won’t stop pursuing victims’ justice, De la Rosa says, polishing off a late-night dinner of chiles rellenos in a jukebox bar in downtown El Paso. “This is a stupid war.”
Threats and mass death in the rural outskirts of Juárez, such as in the town of El Porvenir, have led to more Mexicans showing up at border posts and applying for asylum, even if it means they’ll be locked up.
El Paso’s police chief, Greg Allen, estimates 30,000 Juárenses have legally crossed and are now living in his city. Many say that’s a low.
The violence has also spurred illegal crossings. Some of them end up at Annunciation House in downtown El Paso, whose specific mission is to help illegal immigrants.
“Just like we received migrants fleeing El Salvador and Guatemala in the ’80s and ’90s, just like we’ve seen thousands of economic refugees, we started seeing Mexicans fleeing the violence in Juárez and other parts of Mexico,” says shelter director Ruben Garcia.
There is a woman there with a 1-year-old baby whose husband and 8-year-old were killed recently. Another woman, who is pregnant, lost her father-in-law when he was kidnapped and then killed after she and her husband couldn’t come up with the ransom money.
There is no hope for any of these people, most of them poor, to legally immigrate to the U.S. Asylum is the only possibility, but it’s a long shot. Since 2006, only 242 have been approved, a coalition of El Paso human rights groups say. They’ve tended to be those at high risk of reprisal, such as police officers or journalists.
Garcia says the system is “politicized” out of fear that granting asylum to those fleeing the drug war asylum “will open the floodgates.”
Annunciation House wouldn’t make any of the refugees available for interviews, citing their deep fear of the drug gangs. But it recently held a news conference demanding U.S. President Barack Obama review asylum policies.
Two residents spoke at the news conference, their heads completely covered by white cloth bags. They said they feared for their lives, but also being deported. “I am a refugee here in El Paso,” said one. “We don’t want to return to Juárez.”
In decades past, Annunciation House has used an “underground railroad” of sorts to send refugees to Canada when the U.S. would not accept them.
Garcia says both the U.S. and Canada have a responsibility to help victims of the drug violence, because it is these countries’ citizens who are consuming the drugs from which all of the death results.
“What is it Canada is doing as we now find ourselves with so many people knocking on our door?” Garcia asks. “Because what is at the heart of all of this? Yours and my consumption of drugs, and the flow of exorbitant amounts of money.”
Canada has no specific plans for Mexicans escaping drug violence, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada. “All eligible claims made by Mexicans will continue to be reviewed by the independent Immigration and Refugee Board,” a spokesperson says.
Nor are there plans to add Mexico to a list of “source countries” from which Canada accepts refugee claims by people still living in those countries. The claimants in these countries, which include Colombia, Guatemala and El Salvador, must be “seriously and personally affected by civil war or armed conflict.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s acceptance of Mexicans as refugees has dropped precipitously in recent years, from 28 per cent in 2006 to just 8 per cent last year. Many are denied on the basis that Mexico is a “democracy” and is able to keep its people safe.
And to staunch a rising tide of refugee applications from Mexico, last July Ottawa imposed visas for all Mexicans. Applications have since plummeted from an average of 1,000 a month to just 158 last December.
The Immigration and Refugee Board won’t say how many of the visas in the past few years were due to Mexico’s extreme violence.
In eerie contrast toJuárez, which is crawling with law enforcement officers yet suffered 2,700 murders last year, El Paso is the picture of calm. It had just 13.
In fact, it’s the second-safest big city in America, according to CQ Press, a major periodical publisher focusing on American politics. And yet El Paso hasn’t done anything unusual in trying to prepare for spillover violence, according to a police spokesperson.
But spillover has occurred. Last fall gang members came to Horizon City, an El Paso suburb, abducted 30-year-old Sergio Saucedo, and took him to Juárez. There they mutilated and killed him.
“It was really scary, and it shows that the gangs can come here,” said a cousin of the victim in an interview, asking his name not be used.
Many of those who have already relocated to El Paso or nearby border towns have family members connected to the drug trade and are trying to stay alive.
Like José Monsiváis, the pharmacist. He’d love to escape the violence and the economic insecurity with his wife and two children, aged 8 and 13. But he doesn’t have the money or family connections over the border.
“I can’t go anywhere to start over again,” he says. “I wish my son could lead the life of a child and not like an adult with fear living inside his house.
“We are proud Juárenses,”he adds.“But right now we’re very ugly.”
Yolanda : No, you’renot ugly… just unfortunate – for the moment. I do believe your country is on to something seriously innovative with the legalization of all drugs. And.. honestly what choice do you have at the moment? Damn the US for vetoing the first attempt with Fox as prez. Don’t let them keep you down. I heard about that while speaking to a Mexican in Lhasa Tibet. The year? 2006. Think how many lives could have been spared.
Where is the Antonio Banderas character of ‘El Mariachi’ when you need him?? Has the world no more heroes ..