La prensa

The Social Fuse Burns Short

Created: 20 August, 2010
Updated: 26 July, 2022
8 min read

Frontera NorteSur

    In Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Mexico, the social fuse is burning short. Sparked by corruption, insecurity and impunity, different manifestations of social discontent have erupted in recent days. Journalists, prisoners, policemen and other social actors organized demonstrations, staged uprisings and issued new calls to action.

    In an unusual protest, between 200-300 federal policemen wearing hoods and toting  weapons blocked one of  Ciudad Juarez’s main streets on Saturday, August 7, demanding that action be taken against a commander who allegedly forced officers to pay “quotas” from extortions and kidnappings of residents to him.

    The protesters charged that Commander Salomon “El Chaman” Alarcon Romero framed one of their colleagues and intimidated other subordinates by threatening to plant drugs on them.

    In comments to a Ciudad Juarez reporter, unnamed dissident officers complained their superiors were uninterested in protecting the public, and the campaign against organized crime amounted to a simulated exercise.

    Reportedly, cocaine, marijuana, guns and ammunition and photographs of numerous persons, mostly men who might have been targeted for kidnapping, were confiscated from Alarcon’s room at La Playa Hotel by mutinous cops. They also accused Alarcon, who was beaten and held for several hours by the rebels, of planting drugs on common citizens to extort money.

    Work-related complaints included unfit-for human consumption food, 12-hour shifts, charges for ammunition clips and $40-$200 fees for permission to visit family members.

    In between blows and ridicule, Alarcon vehemently denied the accusations and pointed the finger at another commander, Ricardo Duque Chavez, as the individual responsible for setting up the officer whose detention sparked the rebellion. Duque later dismissed the rebels as lazy, undisciplined officers who were hastily enrolled in the Federal Police from other law enforcement agencies.

    At one point during the protest, anti-Alarcon demonstrators fought with the commander’s escorts.

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    In a swift response, the Federal Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) suspended Alarcon and three other commanders from their jobs and turned the officials over to the federal attorney general’s office in Mexico City for investigation. On Sunday, August 8, before rank-and-file officers could say anything more to the press, the presumed participants of the anti-corruption uprising were hastily flown from Ciudad Juarez to Mexico City.

    “Internal affairs will proceed with the pertinent investigations to establish the responsibility of the parties involved in the conflict and will apply sanctions to those found involved,” the SSP said in a statement.

    According to the federal agency, 248 officers are now being investigated for “irregular conduct” because of their participation in last Saturday’s demonstration.

    “The Federal Police repeats its commitment to protect and serve the community,” the SSP statement concluded.

    Once uncommon, cases of extortion and kidnapping-for-ransom have soared in Ciudad Juarez since the mass deployment of Mexican soldiers and federal police as part of the anti-organized crime Operation Chihuahua more than two years ago. Even small-time tortilla makers and burrito sellers have been targets of extortionists, according to reports.

    Prior to Sunday’s mass transfer of federal police from Ciudad Juarez, an unidentified officer admitted that not all the officers were “little angels,” but that “95 percent” came to put their lives on the line and clean-up the town. “There should not be commanders who don’t comply with the law,” he asserted.

    Other on-the-job pressures could be behind the police discontent. Increasingly, federal police are cannon fodder in the conflict with armed gunmen affiliated with the Juarez drug cartel. Last weekend was no exception.

    In addition to a street ambush of federal forces only hours after Saturday morning’s demonstration, the diced-up body of an apparently kidnapped federal officer was found scattered at the entrance to the Plaza las Torres shopping center on the morning of Sunday, August 8. By the evening, two other federal officers lay dead in downtown Ciudad Juarez, gunned down in public while off-duty.

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    The attacks against federal police, who are hunkered down in several once-popular tourist hotels, resemble those of urban guerrillas constantly pricking at the enemy.

    Not far from the police demonstration, about 100 local journalists gathered in front of the local office of the federal attorney general in a silent protest against attacks on their profession. The action was part of an August 7 national protest against the killings of at least 67 journalists and the disappearances of more than a dozen others since 2000.

    “I don’t want to become the story,” read a placard at the Mexico City demonstration which drew an unprecedented 2,000 participants.

    In a Tabasco speech the day before the action, Mexican Supreme Court Justice Olga Sanchez said the government should do more to protect journalists. “What good is a modern, constitutional and democratic state if it does not give security to its citizens?” Sanchez mused.

    On another front, two uprisings occurred last week at the problem-plagued state prison on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez. In the first riot on August 1, two prisoners were killed and seven injured. Disturbances also rattled penitentiaries in Chihuahua City and Matamoros, Tamaulipas, where 14 prisoners were reported killed in fighting on August 6.

    August also was ushered in with a renewed call to action against gender violence in Ciudad Juarez. A newly-formed network of non-governmental and governmental organizations, REDAPREV, denounced the August 3 killing of 15-year-old Ana Karen Santana, who was reportedly raped and then murdered.

    At a press conference, network representatives noted the slayings of 144 women from the beginning of the year until August 6, and demanded action on the ongoing disappearances of women to avoid the “repetition of such cases.”

    On August 8, however, the decomposing body of an unidentified woman who was apparently raped and strangled was discovered in an abandoned home in the El Barreal neighborhood by two children playing.

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    Bringing together groups and agencies which sometimes have been at loggerheads in the past, the REDAPREV includes the official Chihuahua Women’s Institute, Ciudad Juarez Women’s Roundtable and Casa Amiga, the rape crisis center and shelter founded by the late Esther Chavez Cano, among others.

    On a recent Ciudad Juarez visit, Emilio Alvarez Icaza, former president of the Federal District Human Rights Commission, heard first-hand testimony about the city’s reality. In his El Universal column, Alvarez wrote how gunmen snatched a 14-year-old girl from her family’s car and gave the parents an impossible choice: give up the girl or prepare for the entire family to die.

    Alvarez urged greater government attention to Ciudad Juarez. In a reflection on his visit, Alvarez posed a question: “What viability does a city have where any of us can have a daughter ripped away just like that?”

    Finally, reports are growing of citizens taking justice into their own hands. According to El Diario de Juarez newspaper, at least 12 instances of “lynching” have been reported this year.

    In Mexico, “lynchings” typically consist of citizens beating up suspects before turning them over to police or, in extreme cases, involve popular mobs hanging or burning alleged wrongdoers to death.

    In one instance late last month, residents of Ciudad Juarez’s Colonia Industrial neighborhood trapped a robber with the aid of a dog. “We are fed up of them robbing our belongings” an unidentified female resident was quoted. “Who protects us?”

    Gabriel Rodriguez Leos, ex-president of an association of criminologists in the state of Chihuahua, said the neo-vigilantism has both good and bad aspects. On the plus side, spontaneous citizen actions could be a sign that people are overcoming their fears and reclaiming the social landscape. On the negative side, Rodriguez added, mob justice could soon spin out of control and result in “extreme situations” if authorities do not begin doing their jobs.

    So far, neo-vigilantism in Ciudad Juarez hasn’t reached the level of places like the Mexico City suburb of Milpa Alta, where hundreds of people from two communities confronted police and nearly lynched several suspected thieves on two separate occasions this past weekend.

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    The Milpa Alta incidents drew a smattering of praise in cyberspace. Identified as Man-uel Payan, a writer on La Jornada’s website wrote that it was time for citizens to take matters into their own hands, just as they did in the 1810 War of Independence and 1910 Mexican Revolution. The Mexican people, Payan insisted, are “capable of writing a new social history… Justice Now!

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): 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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