Juárez in the Shadows

A Blogger’s View

by | Jun 22, 2011

Children were witnesses to the crimes at Senderos de Pamplona. Photo by Judith Torrea.

It is ten minutes before midnight; I’ve already reported on ten crimes in fewer than six hours. Today, fifteen people have died.

To remember the exact number of muertitos—little dead people, in the very particular journalistic jargon of Ciudad Juárez—I have to look at my notes. At times, I am at one crime scene for only fifteen minutes. I have to go rushing out to another “event.” Ciudad Juárez is a sprawling city and it takes time to go from one place to another. It is a big and violent city, but one with a fierce blue sky and magical sunsets.

I am a journalist. And now I am a freelance journalist in a city that is categorized as the most dangerous in the world. I do not always find a place to publish my stories, so my blog Ciudad Juárez, en la sombra del narcotráfico (Ciudad Juárez, in the shadow of drug trafficking) (http://juarezenlasombra.blogspot.com) arose from my need to make all those stories public. Without having to wait for an editor. Without self-censorship.

My stories are not investigative reporting. They are features on daily life in this city, seen through my eyes. Publishing these stories in my blog helps me feel alive among constant death. It is my cry for justice.

The hardest part is thinking about these events. I realize that the horror that many of my sources predicted (and many of these sources have now been murdered themselves) not only has been surpassed, but now a new ingredient has been added: Mexican President Felipe Calderón’s so-called war against the narcos, in the context of the struggle between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Juárez Cartel to take over the drug routes that extend from Colombia to U.S. consumers.

Since the war began, more than 7,300 people have been murdered in the city. Ciudad Juárez has become a militarized city. If before January 2008, it was poor, attractive women who disappeared, death has now been democratized. Merely being alive is dangerous.

The murders have left 10,000 orphans—children who run the risk of growing up to be paid assassins—sicarios—if the Mexican authorities don’t take action.

I am a journalist and prefer to give voice to the voiceless. Hopefully, the portraits of the victims I publish on my blog help readers to reflect on the war; there is nothing else I can do. I can only report what I see. Here are a few exerpts from my blog.

The Narcocorrido Announcing Death

A little after five in the afternoon on Wednesday, November 11, the radio of the municipal police in Ciudad Juárez was interrupted for a few seconds by a narcocorrido—a drug-related Mexican musical ballad.

I could not tell if this was a song preferred by the Juárez cartel or that of Sinaloa, two drug groups that are battling for control of this much-desired (codiciada) zone—and fight even on the police radio waves.

The only thing that I could be certain of was that death was approaching. Someone was going to be murdered. Half an hour later, the Senderos de Pamplona Street in a working class neighborhood became a spectacle of horror.

When I got to the street, one body was sprawled by the side of a latest-model white Avalanche SUV; another inside a black Pontiac.
Some schoolchildren recounted details of the murders. They were the first witnesses; they were getting out of class when they saw an armed group of men with machine guns pursuing the two victims. (continues on the blog)

Seven Deaths in Fewer Than Seven Hours

He was called Junior, at least until an hour ago. Now he lies at his girlfriend’s door in the working class neighborhood of Lomas del Rey. The federal police have just arrived, although the body has been lying on the ground for an hour. Then the military and the municipal police show up. They are all looking at the body. Some are right up close. Others maintain a distance, like the two federal policemen who chat with two teenage girls sporting white skin, charming smiles and jet-black eyes.

Junior was 18. He worked alongside his father in a mechanic’s shop, and all the neighbors said he was a good kid. Today, out of the blue, a black Explorer SUV sped up, and Junior began to run. Another vehicle cornered him. They gunned him down.

Thirty-three bullet shells were on the ground, more than found in his body. Now he is one more cadaver—for many. For Marta, no; he is the eighth neighbor she has lost in seven months and in many of these cases, the gunshots have been heard; the body was seen lying in a pool of blood; the emergency number 066 had been called to ask for help.

“Can I ask you for help with something? I need a psychologist for my friend. Her 15-year-old son was killed three months ago. She can’t sleep; she doesn’t want to live,” she asks. She says nothing about herself—a 46-year-old woman who has lost eight neighbors to violence in as many months.
(continues on the blog)

Children Burying Children

I don’t know how to begin to tell you what I experienced today, Wednesday, February 3.

The 40-year-old gravedigger Manuel Cano is also speechless. His tear-filled eyes betray the depths of his emotions. Like Juárez’s intensely blue sky that has suddenly turned a fierce gray with heavy rain during much of the day.

And Cano has seen many coffins. More than 6,000. But the last ones were the hardest to take in all his ten years working at the cemetery. “Ciudad Juárez is being massacred. It is a ghost city. There’s no future here,” he explains as he shovels dirt on another grave, one of seven in a row. The gravedigger continues, covering the same graves that he has dug. Meanwhile, he is listening to cheers like “Chuy, presente!!! We love you! A la bio, a la ban! Chuy, Chuy and no one else!” And then he hears the memorial shouts for those lying in the six other tombs.

Jesús Armando Segovia (“Chuy”) was 15, although on his white cross they listed him as two years older. He was an excellent student and sportsman. To the authorities, he was one more member of a gang.

For many, saying that someone is a gang member is an easy way to justify lack of legal investigation; only social or political pressure can galvanize the authorities into action, as happened in the case of the femicides. The justice system is severely flawed and impunity is rampant.

“Chuy” was one of 16 kids who were murdered Saturday at a student party, and one of seven who were given their final farewells on the same street, in the same church and in the same cemetery. They were all neighbors.

Their friends buried them, children burying other children. They ranged from 13 to 19 years old, more or less the same age as the kids who were executed, converted by the violence of their deaths into alleged gang members and drug traffickers. The mourners were closer to being children than adolescents. You could tell that by the way they dressed, by their airs of innocence.

All these kids were still in school, studying hard, the only rays of light in the working class neighborhood of Villas de Salvárcar, where most people work in assembly plants. But hope has now been massacred in this militarized city.

The Prison Queen

In April, six months ago, her image was published around the world. She was smiling. Then she was crying, tears of happiness. She had achieved something she never thought would happen: being chosen a beauty queen.

Her daughters, three and four years old, began to tell her, “See, mommy, you are my princess.” And she would tell them that someday they would be princesses too.

She looks at the picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe she has painted in jail. She has been sentenced to five years in prison for possession of five kilos of marijuana. Sitting on her small bed, she expresses painful emotions through her large eyes. She did not want to see him, not in this fashion, in a coffin, his body tortured. And headless.

She did not want to see him, Iván Roque, her husband, murdered one day before his 30th birthday.

They offered to bring his body to the jail and to open the coffin for a few seconds so that she would be able to mourn him. But she thanked them and refused the offer. She wanted to remember him alive and whole. (continues on the blog)


I live in this city that I have chosen. In a place where great deeds of solidarity take place while human lives are being snatched every single day, and the world only waits to see how more deaths there will be in my dear Juárez, where the blue sky turns into the ochres, oranges and red tones of magic sunsets—until they kill you.

Spring 2013Volume XII, Number 3

Judith Torrea is an independent journalist and blogger from Spain. She received the 2010 Ortega y Gasset Award, the most important journalism award in the Spanish-speaking world. At the time, she was the only foreign journalist living in Ciudad Juárez. She is the second blogger who has won the award: Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez won it in 2008.

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