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SEPTEMBER 2017 • 29


Change is in the Air Unrest stirs in Mexico

iolence in Mexico is surging. To the alarm of many, the hyper-violence of 2007-2012 may be staging a comeback in some parts of the country. President Enrique Pena Nieto’s campaign promise in 2012 to reduce the drug violence is coming undone. The Associated Press reported recently that June this year was the deadliest month in Mexico in 20 years, according to Mexican law enforcement statistics. It’s hard to grasp this if you’ve been fixated on what’s happening in Juarez, as I have. There the murder rate has doubled in the past year, but it’s still only about a quarter of what it was at the height of the violence in 2010. The highest rate of murder in Mexico is now in Colima, a small state on the west coast. It has soared from only seven murders per 100,000 residents in 2007 to 82 just a decade later, according to statistics by INEGI (the Mexican institute for statistics). In Guerrero, No. 2 on the list, the rate has been high for about six years and was holding steady at 71 in 2016. The state of Chihuahua is third on the list with a rate of 71 and rising, but the rate of killings is only about a quarter of what it was at the height of violence in 2011. Sinaloa’s rate (43), in fourth place, is lower than it was in 2011. But Zacatecas, at No. 5, has risen from a rate of five killings to 36 over a decade. (I have a special love of Zacatecas from when I visited 20 years ago. There the warm-hearted people were proud that their state was “tranquilo.”)


Political issues The murder rate in Chihuahua reflects political problems, according to anthropology professor Howard Campbell at UTEP. Governor Javier Corral of the conservative PAN party has been in office for less than a year. “Corral is a weak, embattled governor,” he said in an email, “involved in a longdrawn-out battle with previous gangster governor Cesar Duarte.” He is no relation to Javier Duarte, the corrupt ex-governor of Veracruz who fled and then was apprehended in Guatemala in April. Cesar Duarte is still at large and is believed to have entered the US at El Paso in the spring. Campbell said there’s a lack of alignment among the president, the governor of Chihuahua, and the local mayors, leading to a “vacuum of power in general and vis-à-vis the underworld (cartels).” In Mexico, governors traditionally have lots of power and appoint people to jobs by a patronage system that includes drug lords. “Juarez and Sinaloa (cartels) are still battling (for) control of the Sierra (at the border with Durango and Sonora) and surrounding towns and routes into Juarez,” Campbell said in the email.

A counter-current Palomas may represent a counter-current in this scenario. On June 26, 2017, there was a police operation where the local jefe of the narcos for several years, “El Zurdo” (Lefty), was apprehended along with some associates. This happened at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. Mayor Ramon Rodriguez says it was the federal police and that he wasn’t con-

sulted or forewarned. But with a positive attitude, he says proudly, “It was done without a shot being fired.” His judgment may be correct, unless the police come back for more of them and things get out of control. Many people in Palomas didn’t even know this operation occurred. Although the operation was not violent, it’s obvious that drug gangs will stick to the port of entry like Gorilla Glue. It’s too valuable for them. The level of violence in Palomas has for several years been much less than it was before the extreme violence of 2007-2011. There used to be 10 or 12 murders a year.

Violence against journalists On March 23 in Chihuahua City, a brazen murder of a journalist confirmed the power of the cartels. Miroslava Breach was a very professional woman who had been reporting on abuses of Raramuri Indians by the narcos, including their being forced to grow poppies and marijuana for them. She also reported openly on campaigns by organized crime to get elected in small towns in southern Chihuahua. Breach wrote for El Norte in Juarez and the national newspaper La Jornada. El Norte shut their doors the day after her murder, for the safety of their journalists. On April 25 it was reported that another journalist, Patricia Mayorga, had escaped into the United States. Mayorga was threatened the day Breach was killed, and fled with the help of organizations that assist journalists. Mayorga was a correspondent for the national magazine Proceso. She is now applying for political asylum.

Upturn in violence? Some events being reported in Chihuahua make one think violence may still be on the upswing . On July 5, there was a confrontation between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels (or “Los Chapos and La Linea”) in the town of Las Varas, within the municipio of Madera. It was reported widely, but the estimates on the number killed were vague, ranging from “over 10” to 26. From a personal conversation, I’ve learned the town of Balleza is still roiling with violence, but there has been little news coming from this town. A very disturbing incident, still shadowy, has been mentioned to me by three people. There was possibly a gunfight between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels on a highway north of Guadalupe y Calvo, a town near the southern border of Chihuahua. It probably happened in early April. One woman told me a cousin witnessed the aftermath and guessed that 60 people had died. Another said he saw a report about this on TV where they said 50 had died. A third person in Palomas said he had seen reports on YouTube. What disturbs me especially is how some Chihuahenses are frozen with fear, as they have been for a decade. Some normally kind people vehemently refuse to have their names used in print, or any details descriptive of them. As a sweet woman with little education commented online to a story about violence in southern Chihuahua: “Omidios alludalos”—Oh, my God, help them.


continued from page 28 of her life here. Now whenever I visit, she is one of the first to greet me. She hugs me, kisses me and says “Foto, foto,” the only coherent word I have ever heard her say. She keeps 20 or more of my photos in her Bible – photos of her wearing three hats stacked on top of each other or a mask or with the Bible in her hand or a bunch of bracelets on her wrist or a white plastic cross dangling from her fingers or a crown of little flowers on her head. She always wants more photos. On a Sunday in July several Becky is holding pictures Smith took of her as well as Juan Carlos, the patient she was going to marry.

years ago – temperature 103 degrees – eight heavily armed police officers delivered a filthy, aggressive woman named Marta to Galván. Patients bathed Marta, cut off her matted hair, gave her a clean smock and trimmed her fingernails. (There is no money for staff to do this.) Then she shrieked, broke loose and charged to the other side of the patio. “Let her calm down,” Galván said. She was built like a linebacker and no one wanted to tangle with her. Finally Elia, who couldn’t weigh more than 100 pounds,

and Leticia, who was even smaller, walked quietly across the patio and sat next to her. Elia then leaned against Marta, her hand on her shoulder. In a few minutes, Marta was relaxed and smiling. The next time I visited, it was Marta taking care of Leticia whose balance was bad, causing numerous falls. Now only Elia is left, dedicated to relieving the suffering of others.

Cinthia Although a Mexican citizen, Cinthia grew up in Ponca City, Oklahoma, and speaks perfect English. Nonetheless, this intelligent and attractive woman has “cycled” through Visión en Acción four times since I started visiting. By that, I mean that she is brought in drugged up, delusional and aggressive, kept in a cell until she is no longer a risk, and then allowed to be in the main population until a plan is put together for her release, usually to a family member. At first, it was exciting to watch her progress. She would talk about her plans to marry and I would promise to be her photographer. Soon, however, she would be back, crazed and aggressive. Shortly after her last release, police found her wandering the streets, hysterical. Now she is back again but taking much longer to recover. In early July, she

was out in the patio with the other patients but on July 27, she was back in a cell and incoherent. She will always have food, care and shelter but her true potential will never be realized. Many years ago I watched how my wife, Julie treated a mentally ill relative. Just like a regular person who you love and care for. Therefore, to me, these women aren’t “invisible.” They are just regular people who have suffered

and have illnesses and need to be loved and cared for. M organ S mith, a freelance p hotograp her and w riter from S anta F e, travels at least once a month to document conditions on the border and can be reached at M organ- smith@ H is p hotograp hy of “ I nvisible W omen” on disp lay through S ep t. 10 at Cap itol Coffee, 5 0 7 Old S anta F e Trail, S anta F e.

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September 2017  
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