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Mar-01-2011 02:15printcomments

Ciudad Juarez Mourns, Organizes

In Ciudad Juarez, people have two stark choices: they can either sit back passively and wait to be killed or extorted or do something in spite of the dangers.

Soldiers stand guard  near three people were found, on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, February 25
Soldiers stand guard amid clouds of dust near the site where the dead bodies of three people were found, on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, February 25. Photo: Reuters

(LAS CRUCES, N.M.) - Stunned by the murders of three people whose lives they tried to save, human rights activists in Ciudad Juarez vow nevertheless to press forward with their movement for justice.

On Saturday, February 26, Elias Reyes Salazar, his sister Magdalena Reyes and Luisa Ornelas, the wife of Elias Reyes, were laid to rest in the rural Juarez Valley south of the city. Their bodies were discovered the previous day not far from the place where the trio was kidnapped by an armed commando almost three weeks earlier. Early reports suggest the victims’ bodies were dug up and then dumped in a visible location where they could easily be spotted. “The protest is going to continue until there is a clarification of this crime,” said Jose Hernandez, a participant in a protest encampment outside the Ciudad Juarez offices of the Chihuahua state prosecutor.

“We’re going to stay here as long as there are not favorable results in the leads…”

Almost immediately after the February 7 kidnapping, members of the Reyes family, supporters from the Citizens Plural Front and other activists erected tents and demanded the safe return of their loved ones. They began a hunger strike at the encampment and then a initiated a second one in Mexico City, both of which were called off after the bodies of the three missing persons were found. Nonetheless, the Ciudad Juarez protest encampment continues until further notice, according to Hernandez and other participants.

Outside the entrance to the government office complex where signs direct citizens to the different departments of the State of Chihuahua’s “new legal system,” four pink crosses in memory of murdered and disappeared women stand. Protest signs and banners cover the building’s front windows, accompanied by drawings of President Felipe Calderon springing horns, Uncle Sam with a smoking gun and pigs’ heads; the sketches of children implore peace and justice.

Surprisingly, authorities have allowed the strong messages to plaster the building’s exterior unmolested  A sign near the main tent sheltering campers reads:

“We are not rebels.
We are a pained people.
Don’t be indifferent.
This affects all of us.”

Evangelina Barragan said a love for Juarez and Jesus Christ motivated her to join the encampment. “As Mexicans, we suffer here and are humiliated everywhere,” Barragan said.

“And this is not right.”

After filing their legal complaints with state law enforcement personnel, many people have approached the protesters to relate incidents of kidnapping, murder and threats that have not come to “public light,” added Irvine, another camp participant.

Perhaps the most striking item at the camp is the family portrait of a proud Sara Reyes and her nine children. Of the nine brothers and sisters from the Juarez Valley, five are now dead. Human rights activist Josefina was gunned down in January 2010, while her brother Ruben suffered a similar fate seven months later. Then Elias and Magdalena were murdered. An older brother, Eleazar, died of health-related causes a few years ago, according to Hernandez.

On February 25, the official National Human Rights Commission demanded government protection for the Reyes family, as well as a “speedy and efficient probe to find those responsible for the deaths of Elias and Magdalena Salazar and Luisa Ornelas Soto…”

Weekend editions of some Ciudad Juarez news outlets ran pictures of narco-style messages found alongside the bodies of the three Reyes family members recovered on February 25. The crudely written invectives accused the Reyes of complicity with organized crime, and directly threatened surviving sister Marisela, who had been part of the hunger strike. On February 15, Sara Reyes’ home was burned down by attackers.

Marisela Reyes (L), sister of slain human rights activist Josefina
Reyes Salazar, reacts when arriving outside the senate building in
downtown Mexico City February 25, 2011. The dead bodies of the
kidnapped family members of slain human rights activist Josefina
Reyes Salazar were found near a gas station on the outskirts of
Ciudad Juarez, according to local media. Josefina's sister Marisela
Reyes was on a hunger strike to demand that authorities find two
brothers and a sister-in-law who were kidnapped on February 7.
Josefina Reyes Salazar was a campaigner against violence & human
rights abuses by military officials and was shot dead near Ciudad
Juarez in January 2010. Photo: Reuters/Yahoo News

The violence against the Reyes clan has occurred in close proximity to the numerous Mexican army units stationed in the Juarez Valley. Hernandez questioned: “How is it possible for the gunmen to get through?”

Relatives and friends publicly reject the anonymous allegations of narco associations as a smear. Hernandez recalled how Josefina, for example, was a longtime, committed community activist, who struggled against the murders of women in the Juarez Valley and participated in the 1998-1999 cross-border movement that halted a planned nuclear dump in Sierra Blanca, Texas. Eleazar, he said, was passionate about preserving the Juarez Valley’s rich agricultural heritage, and promoted organic farming projects before his untimely death.

Nowadays, the Reyes family is physically and emotionally devastated, the Juarez Valley increasingly abandoned by terrified residents and the rule of law in the region tattered into a thousand shreds.

In neighboring El Paso, Texas, the newly-formed activist organization Peace and Justice without Borders is backing the Juarez movement with material and communications support, said Ana Morales, a spokeswoman for the group.

“It’s heart-breaking. It’s very disappointing. It’s a cruel reality,” was how Morales characterized the current situation in Ciudad Juarez. “A lot of innocent people are dying.” According to Morales, local activists are up against a wall of public desensitization and powerlessness when it comes to Ciudad Juarez.

“It’s just such a big monster. It’s pretty unbeatable. That’s what (people) say,” Morales said. The young activist urged people to seek alternative sources of information about what is really happening in Ciudad Juarez and reach out to the Mexican people.

Critical of the Merida Initiative and US support for the so-called drug war, Peace and Justice without Borders co-sponsored a January 29 demonstration of hundreds at the border fence dividing Sunland Park, New Mexico, from the northwestern edge of Ciudad Juarez.

Currently, Peace and Justice without Borders is in the process of launching an Indymedia website that will focus on news and information not covered by the mainstream media in the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez-Las Cruces border corridor, Morales added.

In Ciudad Juarez, meanwhile, people have two stark choices, contended protester Irvine: they can either sit back passively and wait to be killed or extorted or do something in spite of the dangers. “Organization is the response,” he affirmed. “There is no other way.”


Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico

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