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Archive for March, 2010

March 30, 2010

The arrest of Richardo Valles de la Rosa was made public late Monday morning. A military spokesman announced his arrest saying that he was a member of the deadly Azteca gang and a suspect in the murders of three people linked to the US consulate in Juarez.

Richardo Valles de la Rosa during a court hearing in Cd. Juarez

That information caused a media flurry and by Monday afternoon a good number of news sources were carrying the report. Mexican interior secretary, Fernando Gomez Mont, –President Calderon’s right hand man– made a statement in support of the news. But later the same day, Chihuahua governor Jose Reyes Baeza contradicted that statement saying there was still no concrete evidence linking Valles de la Rosa with the consulate deaths.

This all made for a good deal of confusion. To complicate matters further, late Tuesday evening another news update emerged, this one shifting the focus of the story significantly. A Mexican newspaper first broke the news on their website. Soon after, the Associated Press cited a joint statement issued by the Mexican government, saying that Valles de la Rosa had made a formal declaration stating that the attack on March 13 was targeted at Arthur Redelfs. Redelfs was a detention officer for the El Paso sheriff’s department. His wife, Lesley Enriquez, worked for the US consulate in Juarez. The two were murdered while driving back from a birthday party in Juarez. Enriquez was pregnant and the couple’s infant daughter, who was in the back seat of the car, survived the attack unharmed.

The third person murdered under similar circumstances, but in a different part of town was Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros. His wife also works for the American consulate and she was driving behind her husband on their way back from the same party as Arthur and Lesley. Salcido Ceniceros was shot to death in his car. His children, who were in the backseat were injured in the attack and taken to the hospital. I think the children have since been released, but am not sure of their condition. In the declaration made by Valles de la Rosa, Salcido Ceniceros’ death was a case of mistaken identity. He drove a similar vehicle as the Lesley and her husband and because the gunmen where uncertain of which car contained their target, they hit both.

Valles de la Rosa is said to be a sergeant of the violent Azteca gang, which is allied with the Juarez drug cartel. He served 12 years in a federal prison in Texas and has an outstanding warrant for drug charges in El Paso county. His wife said they rented homes in El Paso. If there is truth to Valles de la Rosa’s statement, it would obviously confirm that the March13 killings are gang-related. The Azteca gang is the Juarez branch of the Barrio Azteca gang in El Paso. The Barrio Aztecas are originally a prison gang made up of El Paso inmates. I understand there are Barrio Azteca, and perhaps Azteca members being held in the El Paso county jail where Redelfs worked.

I was in Juarez today at a court hearing with Valles de la Rosa. The hearing was to formally charge Valles de la Rosa with a murder back in October. During the hearing, his attorney said his client had been tortured, citing a medical examiner’s report. He also charged that the prosecuting team, in this case a pair of investigative state police officers, only had his clients confession and a weapon he was carrying as evidence of his participation in the crime. In Mexico, criminal suspects are commonly tortured into confession, especially in high-profile cases.

Both the Mexican and American governments are under a lot of pressure to solve and make sense of the murders that occurred on March 13. Mexico is in the middle of a vicious fight against the country’s powerful drug cartels, has a weak investigative police force, and is undergoing a full blown overhaul to their judicial system. They need all the outside help they can get. We’ll see what all that means with regards to this binational investigation.

Sadly, there are thousands of tragic stories like that Arthur Redelfs and his wife Lesley Enriquez. The vast majority, however, will never get the same attention or international push towards justice.

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Wednesday March 24, 2010

Thirteen days have past since the last mass killing occurred in Juarez and I am just now sitting down to pick up where I left off. Three days after six people were killed at a funeral wake in Paraje del Sur, a couple of other deadly shootings vastly overshadowed their deaths and consumed the attention of the international press, including myself. I’m referring to the murder of US consulate worker Lesley Enriquez and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, who worked as a detention officer in the El Paso County jail. Also killed was Jorge Alberto Salcido Cenicero, who’s wife worked for the US consulate in Juarez.

A hearse is parked in front of a home in south Juarez. This home was the site of a shooting the night before, which resulted in the death of six more people.

And this morning, there is yet another mass shooting in the Juarez headlines, unlikely to get air time or ink spent in the international press. Four young men where killed outside a funeral home they were making improvements to in their neighborhood. The news reports attribute their deaths to rival gang activity and say these were young men who were trying to reform their lives. One of dead apparently lived in El Paso.

The mass shooting thirteen days ago, occurred in a remote colonia called Paraje del Sur. From the international border it took me 40 minutes to reach the neighborhood. I put 100 miles on my car in my attempt to cover the story. Despite my efforts, though, I wasn’t able to get much insight into the attack.

Paraje del Sur is in the south eastern corner of Juarez, one of the newer neighborhoods of government subsidized housing projects meant to house employees who work the dozens of maquiladoras in that portion of the city. I often see the colonia’s name in the news as it is a common site of violence, mostly shooting deaths. This was my first visit to the neighborhood.

I arrived at about 11:30 in the morning. Despite the newness of the corner stores, and gasoline stations the colonia has a desolate feeling. In stark sunlight, there is a noticeable lack of trees as the neighborhood is built over no more than desert sand and prickly shrubs. Graffiti is everywhere.

The killings happened just a few blocks from the entrance of the colonia, which is marked by a large sign in blue lettering that says Paraje del Sur. When I arrived there were already other media there. A black hearse was parked in front of the house as the family was preparing to bury the 18-year-old boy whose wake the night before resulted in six more deaths. The family was visibly annoyed by our presence and did not want to talk, something I can sympathize with. I took a couple shots and talked with neighbors who had gathered around on the same block. I didn’t get much more than second-hand accounts, but the note of of frustration and desperation present in so many of the interviews I do was unmistakable.

The family left in a small sedan behind the hearse and the media began clearing away. I asked some of the local reporters whether there would be a press conference later on. Some of them actually chuckled at my question. “No,” they said. The only response to the media from authorities was to send us a police report with basic details. This time there would be no denouncing by the mayor, the attorney general, the federal police or military, like there was in the last massacre. The realization felt surreal to me. It felt like even mass killings, like this one– the second in seven weeks, had become just another example of the daily violence in the city.

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Friday March 13, 2010

Thursday night a family was gathered at their home in a remote south eastern corner of Ciudad Juarez. They were having a funeral wake for their 18-year-old son who was shot dead two days earlier in the same neighborhood. Close to ten o’clock friends and relatives outside the home were attacked by gunmen who fired at them with 66 rounds. Five people between the ages of 18 and 30-years-old lay dead in the front yards of neighboring homes, perhaps in their attempt to flee. A sixth person, a 21-year-old woman later died at a hospital from her wounds. Four others are still hospitalized with injuries.

This was the news I woke up to Friday morning. My plans that day did include a visit to my sister city, but not to cover yet another massacre. A sick feeling slowly bubbled in my stomach. I remember the emotional ordeal of the last mass killing– the wailing relatives, the coffins, the rain, dozens of funeral wreaths. Why more, why again, I asked myself? Where is the humanity in people? I didn’t want to cover this again, hadn’t the city gone through enough already?

But these are things beyond my control or opinion, I had a duty to carry out.  I made some calls to get directions to the neighborhood and rescheduled my previous appointments for that day. I packed my gear, hid away my passport together with a twenty and my driver’s license and left my house heading south towards the big Mexican flag flapping in the distance.

…to be continued

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