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Posts Tagged ‘Azteca gang’

July 19, 2010

I held a microphone in one hand and a drippy strawberry ice cream cone in the other. At the opposite end of the microphone was a 24-year-old gangster with a shaved head and a tear drop tattooed on the corner of his eye. We were sitting in an outdoor pizza parlor in the garden of the Azteca wing in the Juárez municipal jail. Yes, you read correctly, a pizza parlor and a garden in jail.

The Juárez jail is not a minimum security facility. Most are locked up here while their cases go through judicial proceedings. But people are also here serving time for murder. The entire cell block we visited is filled with dangerous gang members. When greeting a pair of American reporters, though, most of them seemed as tame as kittens.

Inmates in the Azteca wing of the Juarez jail hang outside their cell buildings.

For this visit, I was tagging along with NPR’s Mexico City correspondent. We arrived just before lunch under a blazing desert sun and 100-degree weather. I went to the jail with the expectation that it wouldn’t be like any jail in the United States. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the laid back, almost festive atmosphere. Despite being surrounded by thugs and killers I felt safer inside the jail walls than outside in the city.

In the Azteca wing, the grounds and cell buildings were incredibly neat and clean. It felt more like a neighborhood than a jail. There were concrete benches and tables each shaded by a canopy, in-house restaurants, an art workshop, a vegetable garden and classrooms. The inmates are free to move in and out of their cells during the day. Women and children, usually family members, wander the grounds as do ducks, geese and goats.

The young man we interviewed was a gun smuggler from El Paso, a U.S. citizen in a Mexican jail. He said he wasn’t the only one. His job was to cross guns over the border from El Paso into Juarez. He didn’t get or buy the guns himself, that job belongs to someone else.  One day he was caught on the Mexican side of the international bridge and ended up in jail.

“This is the life I chose,” he said. No regrets.

As soon as he gets out, he said he’ll go back to the same life. He doesn’t have a choice, really. Used to be that the only ways out of a gang was by turning to God or death. Not now, he said, with the ongoing “war” between different drug cartels it’s all hands on deck. The Azteca gang, which he is a member of, is allied with the local Juárez drug cartel.

An inmate at the CERESO jail in Ciudad Juarez sits in his cell.

The Aztecas are the Juárez branch of the Barrio Aztecas, a gang founded by El Paso inmates in a U.S. federal prison. The young man we interviewed was recruited into the gang when he was 17 and serving time in a Texas prison. He said the reason he joined was more about protection than free will. The Juárez Aztecas and the El Paso Barrio Aztecas typically work together. Members have a special wing in the Juárez jail to avoid conflict with rival gang members incarcerated in other areas.

While we interviewed the El Paso gangster, other inmates brought us each a double scoop of ice cream in a large sugar cone. It was a strange situation to be in, sitting in the municipal jail of one of the most dangerous cities in the world, interviewing a gangster, licking an ice cream cone.

When we left the jail we didn’t marvel too long on the leisurely atmosphere of the place. Our thoughts lingered on the gun smuggler from El Paso and on how this drug war could only be possible with cooperation from both sides of the U.S./Mexico border.

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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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