It can be hard to write about the violence in Ciudad Juárez without using clichés. It’s known as “the world’s most dangerous city” or “the most lethal place on earth” at the “center of a cartel turf war” in which mass murders have become so common that only the most over-the-top massacres seem to illicit a mention in the US press. This, despite the fact that you can literally see Juárez from El Paso, Texas…and that US market demand for drugs is at the heart of the bloodshed.
In a militarized Drug War that has claimed more than 35,000 Mexican lives since December of 2006, no city has paid as high a price as Ciudad Juárez. However, criticizing the government’s militarization strategy can be dangerous.
The homes of 2 vocal activists were set on fire this week. Both had become active as a result of seeking justice for murdered family members.
One is Sara Salazar, who has lost three relatives to violence since 2009. First her grandson went missing, presumably after being taken into military custody, in 2009. Her daughter, Josefina Reyes, became an outspoken critic of the president’s militarization strategy in the wake of her son’s disappearance. In Mexico, the military is largely shielded from prosecution for crimes committed against civilians by something known as “fuero militar”.
Josefina Reyes was herself murdered January 3rd of 2010. Her brother, Rubén Reyes Salazar, was killed on August 18, 2010. Both murders have gone unpunished.
Then on February 7th 2011, an armed commando abducted Malena and Elías Reyes Salazar – a daughter and son of Sara Salazar – along with Elías’ wife, Luisa Ornelas. Sara Salazar was in the vehicle, but separated from the kidnapping victims, as was her grandaughter, Yarima.
Some surviving family members began a hunger strike and protest camp in front of a special prosecutor’s office in Ciudad Juárez to press for action on the case. Sara Salazar was at the protest camp when she received word on the night of Tuesday, February 15th, that her house had been set on fire. Her house is located 100 yards from a military checkpoint in the Valle de Juárez, a rural area outside of Ciudad Juárez.
Anti-femicide activist Malú García Andrade visited the protest camp the next day. She reported her house was burned down that night. García Andrade was no longer living in the house due to death threats which she links to her activism in the cases of unpunished murders of young women, including that of her sister. Days later, García announced she is leaving Ciudad Juárez because she fears for her safety and that of her family. This week marks the anniversary of the brutal murder of her sister, Lilia Alejandra García Andrade, who was abducted, tortured, gang raped and killed over the course of the days between February 14th to the 21st of 2001. That murder has also gone unpunished.
Ciudad Juárez has registered over 8 thousand murders since President Felipe Calderón launched a militarized offensive against Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations. The border city is a key entry point into the world’s most lucrative drug market; the United States.
More than 300 have been killed in Ciudad Juárez since the start of 2011. Some predict the city’s death toll will reach 5,000 by the end of the year.