Pubdate: Sun,  1 Jun 2003
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2003 The Star-Journal Publishing Corp.
Author: Mark Stevenson, Associated Press


CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico - The people of Juarez have grown nearly numb to the 
killings and violence that have tormented this border city for years. But 
the brutal murder of 9-year-old Ricardo Aquino - bound and killed after he 
was kidnapped while playing soccer on May 17 - has even top officials 
wondering what has gone wrong in Juarez.

Residents complain that the industrial hub across from El Paso, Texas, has 
seen a systematic break down in social values after waves of migrants began 
arriving in the 1970s. But a recent rise in drug use appears to have 
contributed to a growing culture of violence and lawlessness.

"The people who did this, this was not a thing humans do. This was 
something only beasts would do," says Ricardo's mother, Gloria Olivares.

Police say a family acquaintance allegedly set up the kidnapping of the 
boy, hoping for 1.5 million pesos (US$150,000) the family couldn't possibly 
have raised.

The kidnapping went wrong when one of the investigating agents realized his 
cousin was one of the kidnappers and called the man to warn him police were 
closing in, prosecutors say. The cousin then allegedly decided to kill the 
boy and dump his body in a garbage-strewn lot to hide the evidence.

"Ricardo would have turned 10 on Monday," says Olivares, as she stood, 
inconsolable, in her family's home.

Ricardo Aquino

"He wanted to be a musician or a disc jockey," adds his brother, 
21-year-old Fernando Aquino.

State anti-kidnapping agent Martin Valenzuela, was ordered held over for 
trial on kidnapping charges Tuesday, while four other men - including the 
family acquaintance - were ordered to stand trial for kidnapping and 
murder. The four reportedly tested positive for drug use, though it remains 
unclear if they were using drugs at the time.

That combination - a breakdown in values and drugs - are at the heart of 
the problem, says Oscar Valadez, the Chihuahua state prosecutor based in 
Ciudad Juarez.

Over the weekend, one man riddled an acquaintance with eight bullets in a 
dispute over a 50 peso (US$5) debt - another killing that appears to 
involve drugs. And prosecutors have said the murders of at least 93 young 
women in the last decade appear to fall into a similar pattern. Federal 
investigators have said some of the women may have been killed for their 

"Ciudad Juarez is a violent city, one that has lost its moral values, where 
there is a social breakdown," Valadez says. "It's also a city that attracts 
significant investment, so that makes it a place vulnerable to crime."

The problem has become so severe that the Mexican army was sent into Juarez 
this week to raid the hundreds of small-scale cocaine and heroin shops - 
"picaderos" or "needle shops" - that have sprung up in Juarez. Doses of 
both drugs are sold for as little as US$1 to US$2.

"We do have a serious crime problem," says city spokesman Ricardo Chavez. 
"Due to the tightening of security at the U.S. border, a lot of the drugs 
that used to be shipped into the United States are staying here. We have 
seen a definite increase in drug use and sales."

But at the school where Ricardo was in the fourth grade, the problem is not 
new. Ricardo wasn't even the first pupil at the Mexican Revolution No. 1 
primary school to be kidnapped and killed.

In September 2000, 7-year-old Juan Pablo Gomez, a first-grader at the 
school, disappeared. Ten months later his body was found buried in the yard 
of a neighbor, an alleged child molester.

"Since then, we have been very, very nervous," says principal Ignacio 
Hernandez, 48, who remembers a different Juarez before the explosive growth 
of the 1970s, when waves of migrants from the rest of Mexico arrived hoping 
to eventually make it to the United States. Juarez became an overcrowded 
way station and melting pot, "and our values began to disintegrate," he says.

"Both parents have to work because wages at the assembly plants are so low, 
and so they leave their children alone and the result is predictable," he 
says. "Unfortunately, we are losing our children."

Last year, parents and community groups pitched in to build a cinderblock 
wall around the school in a lower middle-class Juarez neighborhood, 
replacing the mesh fence that once enclosed it.

"We were tired of people coming here and offering drugs through the fence, 
or people lurking around trying to get the attention of the girls," 
Hernandez says.

Gloria Olivares did a lot to protect her child.

"Ricardo knew our telephone numbers, the house address, the cellular phone 
numbers," Olivares recalls. "He knew how to ask for help. They just didn't 
give him a chance."

Now she is learning another grim lesson.

"Many people are afraid. They are afraid of the police, of how money can 
buy justice, so they keep quiet about things. They don't report them," 
Olivares says. "I'm not keeping quiet any more."
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