by Marcela Turati, Proceso
translation from the original Spanish by Kristin Bricker
Ciudad Juarez is the Calderon-style laboratory for combating criminal organizations. Not only drug traffickers, drug dealers, and even drug addicts, but also common citizens, above all youngsters, are involuntarily subjected to an experiment: how it would be, in Mexico, to live under military control. It has produced contradictory results: the executions, common crime, and street violence are increasing.
Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua - The manual that was edited by the city council for good coexistence with soldiers states that you should identify yourself when they ask you to and follow their instructions. If they don't object, they will let you continue on your way.
In every street you will bump into men in olive-green uniforms, 7,500 to be exact, and 2,500 federal police dressed in blue with their faces covered. They will point their weapons at you while they patrol the streets, they will direct traffic where traffic lights are lacking, or they will question you for not wearing your seat belt. Don't be frightened; they're doing the transit cops' jobs.
Sometimes you will see them helping to push cars that broke down in the middle of the street, breaking up fights between drunks outside bars, subduing armed people, or slowing down the line of cars that are trying to cross the international bridge to El Paso, Texas. You will find them outside your children's schools, or even inside your own home.
Yes, inside. This will occur if the ion scanners that they use detect something near your home. Don't be offended, they have to make sure that you're not a criminal. So let them inside unimpeded so that they can rummage through your closet, your refrigerator, and your jewelry box; move your furniture; and thoroughly search every corner of your house.
You should feel proud to be part of the experiment in a city that is considered to be the spearhead of the anti-drug strategy that Calderon is showing off to Obama due to its "good results."
Right. Here the 10,000 soldiers and federal police contained the wave of murders that was killing 10 people per day and they abated it during the month of March. Although since April Juarez has regained its title as the most violent city in the country (with an average of four homicides per day, although sometimes six will occur in six hours or 19 in a weekend).
The heaps of soldiers, anonymous tips, and house-to-house searches, however, have produced results: now murders aren't committed with automatic rifles that leave dead bodies lying around with 80 holes in them. Now 9mm pistols are the weapons of choice, along with penknives and ice picks. And those that are killed aren't experienced adults--they're adolescents.
This change in the demographics and the criminals' modus operandi, according to Mayor Reyes Ferriz, shows that the drug kingpins have fled from the soldiers (perhaps that's why the murders went up 50% in the rest of the state) and now it's the street dealers who fight over the "turf." These dealers are younger and have less-powerful weapons.
The switch from rifles to smaller weapons, and from adults to kids, as Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont puts it, means that the strategy "is on the right path" and that now the second phase can begin, which includes the "stunning" capture of important criminals.
The downside is that with so many unemployed hitmen, the number of kidnaps and extortions has risen, and 50% of the people detained by soldiers in the Chihuahua Joint Operation are set free because the dossiers are put badly put together or for lack of evidence.
Those little details are being worked out so that the experiment can be successfully replicated in the rest of the country. The model includes soldiers in the headquarters of police forces, transit police, prisons, and even in the headquarters of business inspectors; squads of soldiers patrolling the streets; purges of police and training of their replacements in military barracks; and heavy spending to install street cameras, GPS systems, automatic weapons for soldiers and police, and armor.
Don't miss this opportunity. Enjoy your stay in this border town and feel the "Love for Juarez" that the radio and commercials extol.
"We Want Them to Leave"
He looks like walking death. Mistreated skin, a sad expression. He doesn't give his name. He survived one of the massacres in the Rehabilitation Centers in this city (three occurred last year, this one being one of them) and, like his friends, out of fear he postponed his plan to heal from his addiction.
It is estimated that in this city, the country's leader in addictions, there are 100,000 drug users. This young man is one of them.
"It's real bad with the soldiers. We want them to leave. They just hit you so that you tell them where you buy your drugs. Five months ago four of us were hitting some 'agua celeste' [a relatively new drug to Juarez which comes in liquid form and is either inhaled or drunk when mixed with other liquids] and they put us in the back of their trucks, they beat us with their assault rifles, then they put us up against a wall and they beat us with boards. They left my back purple," he says while he twists to show where they left marks.
He says that even with the beating, he and his friends didn't talk, because that would be the equivalent of condemning themselves to death. They also didn't file a complain for the abuses.
"They humiliate you real bad, they will tell you anything. This one time three of my buddies, since they were walking around kind of dirty, the federal police pissed on them. They've also disappeared a lot of people," says the unemployed young addict.
Maria Elena Ramos, coordinator of the organization Compañeros, which gives out clean syringes to drug users to prevent HIV or Hepatitis B and C infection, says that the soldiers treat addicts as criminals and they take away their new syringes even when they're not carrying drugs, which creates a public health problem because more people could become infected.
"They should offer more rehabilitation centers [and] invest in people, not in armament and war," says the activist.
The Joint Operation has not undertaken a strategy to rehabilitate addicts. The municipality has a mandatory rehabilitation center planned, but it is still not operational. The main addiction treatment centers are religious and their patients sustain them [financially] without government assistance. Moreover, even with all the soldiers, drugs are still being sold even though their distributors have changed their strategies.
"Before there was a narco-store near here, but now the sales have gone mobile. People gather in the street and someone comes along and whistles and tells them where the dealer is; everyone who needs a hit goes hunting for it and there's someone who makes sure the military doesn't come," explains a woman who is a member of the Juarez Citizens Council.
Transvestites and sex workers who live and work in the declining Bellavista neighborhood--the red light district--also complain about the militarization. Transvestites have suffered beatings from soldiers who were angry at discovering that they shared a bed with a man dressed as a woman. Federal police extort money from sex workers and their clients.
"They scare us," says a transvestite with long fake fingernails who is waiting for clientele outside a hotel in Melchor Ocampo Street. Federal police pass by on their rounds.
In the video, a 20-something young man with closely-cropped hair and an orange shirt tells how some soldiers grabbed him from his house, covered his head, wrapped him in a blanket, poured water him, and subjected him to beatings and electrical shocks. They interrogated him and threatened to kill him if he didn't tell them where he bought his drugs. Later they let him go. It was the second time they detained him that week. His case is filed under the name Alfra-Lambda.
The testimony is saved in the computer of the Chihuahua State Human Rights Commission ombudsman, Gustavo de la Rosa, who has in his office various manila folders that contain citizen complains against soldiers and federal police. So far this year he has received 53.
One of them is called "the Rosales case:" a young man was detained along with a friend who died from a beating perpetrated by soldiers. Caso Alfa Xi: a dozen people dressed as soldiers riding in olive-green trucks beat and detained an older man and set out in the direction of Juarez; the victim was never seen again. Alfa Fi: detention and beating of an older man in the Bellavista neighborhood, who was presented in the Federal Attorney General's Office they next day. Alfa Gi: complaint for three searches of the same house. Alfa Omicron: a young man detained by people who who identified themselves as federal police, and now he is disappeared. Alfa Rau: a young man says that soldiers found him on top of a train; he says that they beat him, tortured him, and demanded money.
The human rights ombudsman says that Joint Operation Chihuahua has meant two years of suffering for the citizens of Juarez, two years of constant violations of the Constitution, and two years of the police's "miserable failure" in the fight against drugs.
He becomes exasperated: "We are in the middle of a war. In 2008 there were 2,500 soldiers. Now there's 10,000 and we have the same number of deaths. And detentions? Practically none. We have more deaths now than we did this time last year, and we have four times as many soldiers."
This lawyer believes that the effort isn't worth it: "The soldiers are sending [prosecutors] weak cases, with poorly compiled dossiers that are falling apart. The number of detainees who have to be freed is very high."
To back up his argument he offers some numbers: "We can estimate that there have been about 1,500 detentions, of which one third (450) have been brought before a judge, and of those, at the most half will be convicted. In other words, the military's productivity rate is around 15% when you consider how many they detain and now many are sentenced."
His analysis is disheartening. He estimates that there's between two and three disappearances daily (some of them turn up dead or in the Federal Attorney General's Office), between three and five kidnappings per week and an unknown number of extortions carried out by gangs.
He's not the only one who says this. Doctors organizations, the Business Coordination Council, the Factory Association, bar associations, students, members of congress, human rights activists, and social organizations have stated that a new approach to the operation is urgent.
The Autonomous Univeristy of Ciudad Juarez took out spectacular advertisements that demanded information about two of its female students who have disappeared. It also requested an explanation for the murder of Professor Manuel Arroyo, who organized a solemn march in which professors and students asked for the withdraw of the military.
"It's Going Good"
From his office in the historic part of the city, which has a view of the US side of the border and a river crossing where fleeing addicts and people who mug migrants hide, Mayor Reyes Ferriz defends Joint Operation Chihuahua's bold results. He says that during the past five years Ciudad Juarez averaged a murder a day, but in 2008 the rate skyrocketed to eight per day by the end of the year. He adds that this past February was the worst with 10 murders per day.
According to Ferriz's statistics, with the presence of ten thousand troops, the murders dropped to an average of one and a half per day, but since April they've increased to four.
Either way, he says, "we are 60% lower than the most difficult months. The operation is producing results."
And he explains that "before they were organized crime murders, all of them with rifles or shotguns, and in the past two months they've been murders between gangs or minor criminals. They are groups who are affiliated with organized crime in low-level distribution, who want to control street-level dealing."
The dead, he confirms, are youngsters without criminal records.
"At this rate, we won't even see half of last year's [homicides].... If it continues like this, we probably will have less than a thousand," he says. And he argues that journalists are using the biggest peaks of violence to compare the year, but that soon his officials will demonstrate that Juarez does not have the highest homicide rate in the country.
The mayor says that regarding the 5,000 troops that patrol the streets, he's only received congratulations, although he admits that various Juarez residents have complained about the 2,500 soldiers and 2,000 federal police that do "intelligence gathering" and search homes. As of June 15, the municipality had received 552 complaints against the operation, of which, he says, the majority have been "resolved."
Meanwhile, the municipality has invested 105 million pesos in this experiment: 48 million in overtime for troops assigned to street patrols to prevent them from taking turns (five thousand per person), 20 million to rent seven converted warehouses for them to sleep in, 15 million pesos in food, plus the costs of vehicles and gasoline for patrols (which are three times more intensive than normal), and training for new municipal police, in addition to 300 million pesos for cameras and GPS radios.
Perhaps the photographer who's shooting pictures of a cadaver doesn't know this. (The dead man's name was Victor, he was 41 years old and had a son; he was murdered on Father's Day.) He doesn't even finish shooting when they announce another 3-9: another murder. The photographer runs to his car and hits the gas.
He comments, "When the Joint Operation began, there were two or three weeks without deaths. Later it didn't matter to them if there were soldiers or not, the violence shot up real bad: minimum five or six murders daily. They kill at all hours, or kidnap people... Sometimes they set them free; others, they kill. It's barely 10:00 and already we have two dead. June has just begun and we have 860 dead already, it seems to me that we're going to break last year's record."
"My record was in 2008: in one day I took [pictures of] 20 dead. The most I've ever shot together were nine, outside the racetrack. One of them was a cop and they cut off his head and put it between his legs. This year they aren't killing so many together anymore."
In the Tierra Nueva Seguna Etapa neighborhood, the victim was a 45-year-old man. They called him El Chispa ("the Spark") and they killed him with an ice pick. Near the cadaver housewives and their children eat and tell jokes. The violence is becoming normalized.
The photographer returns to his car. On the radio frequency that police and paramedics use to communicate a strange music is playing. It's a ballad. No, a narco-ballad ("narcocorrido" in Spanish). The lyrics can barely be made out. The photographer explains, "That's how the narcos let it be known that there's going to be an execution."