Mexico Dispatch: A Country Turned Upside-Down
Photo of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, by Jose Luis Sierra
JUAREZ, Mexico | In a world upside-down, Marisela Escobedo, a mother seeking justice for the killing of her teenage daughter, was executed a few days ago right in front of the Chihuahua state governors office. Meanwhile, a drug cartel has offered to find the killer.
In a world upside-down, Cesar Duarte, the recently-elected governor, responded with a promise to disbar the panel of judges who set the killer free, and promised to find Escobedo’s killer. Yet the whereabouts of the perpetrator remain unknown.
In a world upside-down, 500 supporters of Escobedo, many of them relatives of victims of the wave of violence affecting this country, marched last week with their faces covered, demanding justice. At the same march, federal police agents swirled around, also with their faces covered.
In this upside-down world that is Mexico today, the number of executions in the border city of Juarez is approaching 3,000 for 2010 alone. But despite official promises to investigate every case, 92 percent of the killings remain unsolved.
It is a world that defies all logic. The explosion of an oil duct in the central Mexican state of Puebla earlier in the month left 29 dead, 50 injured and millions of dollars in property damages and PEMEX, the state-owned oil company in charge of the operation, revealed that the cause could be attributed to one of the dozens of illegal “hook-ups” installed by thieves to steal gasoline. Officials from the company say they have known about the problem “for decades,” but no one has ever been indicted.
Examples of a country living upside-down are all over. Abductions have increased by 317 percent over the last five years. Yet even government officials recognize that 75 percent of all kidnappings go unreported, most of the time because the families of the victim fear reprisals and believe that authorities are involved — a fact that has been proven true in about 20 percent of the cases solved.
On the other hand, living in an upside-down world does not affect everyone the same way. Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, a prominent and influential lawyer who was abducted seven months ago, was set free last week and appeared almost immediately in the Mexican media looking like a bearded messiah, showing no physical signs of his captivity. He already has announced the making of a movie about his saga, and rumors are swirling that he will run for the Mexican presidency in the 2012 elections.
Certainly these events from the past couple of weeks in Mexico say a lot about what is happening in the country — a country where the law is not blind, particularly when it comes to the wrongdoings of the legal system itself.
“There is absolutely no trust in our authorities,” says Judith Galarza, member of Asociacion Latioamericana de Familiares Desaparecidos (Latin American Association of Missing Peoples), an NGO created by family members of people officially listed as “disappeared” — more than 500 in the northern states of Mexico alone, not counting the thousands of Central American immigrants who have disappeared in Mexico on their way to the United States.
A report released this week by the National Commission on Human Rights estimates that more than 20,000 undocumented immigrants from Central America have been abducted and held in exchange for ransom — and an undisclosed number have been executed by members of organized crime. Many victims fortunate enough to escape accused Mexican officials of participating in different aspects of the operations.
“We have [innocent] people sentenced for crimes not committed and confessed killers being set free,” says Zulma Mendez of Frente Plural Ciudadano, a local NGO formed by university students and teachers in response to the massacre of 14 teenagers last January.
“It has been proven that the [drug] cartels have infiltrated every level of government, and most citizens are afraid to seek help from authorities,” Mendez adds. “We are in a crisis where the violence has had a heavy impact on the local economy and the quality of life of the residents of this city. You can see it as soon as the sun goes down. People hurry home, looking for a false sense of security since there have been hundreds of executions of people in front of their own homes.”
Most experts and scholars agree that this upside-down world can’t go on forever. Yet the economic figures, paired with the cost of the war on drugs, predict an ominous 2011.
A version of Jose Luis Sierra’s commentary was originally published by New America Media.