Pubdate: Tue, 21 Sep 2010
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2010 San Antonio Express-News
Author: John MacCormack


In Ciudad Juarez, the most dangerous and sinister city of the Western
Hemisphere, the Plaza de Armas is one of the few public spots where
ordinary people still congregate. The tiny park sits below the
cathedral, eight blocks from the international bridge. It is an oasis
of calm, community and shade trees in a city where more than 2,000
people have been killed by drug violence this year.

When San Antonio Express-News photographer Jerry Lara and I visited
the plaza about noon Sept. 16, Mexico's Independence Day, it was
brimming with human life, from old vaqueros in white straw hats to
young lovers entangled on the benches.

A street photographer, with a white plastic horse as a prop, waited
patiently for customers. In the gazebo, an amplified preacher belted
out an off-key hymn of salvation, while shoeshine men and taco vendors
plied their trades.

Under a bright blue sky, a life-size bronze statute of Tin Tan, a
native-son actor, sat grinning on a fountain's edge, a big cigar in

This was my third visit to Juarez in the past year. It's a creepy
place on a good day. Here, it is impossible to evaluate risk, as the
normal laws of human conduct do not apply. As Lara worked, I stayed
close by, watching for camera snatchers.

About 12:30 p.m., we spotted two young Mexican journalists arriving
with cameras and press credentials. One was very tall, with a long
black ponytail and tattoos. The other was short and fair. Both were
younger than my youngest child.

They were rookie photographers for El Diario, the city's biggest
daily, looking for feature art. After a moment of handshakes and
camaraderie, we parted ways.

Later in the afternoon, we planned on going out with one of their
colleagues on the crime beat. Most likely, we would cover a shooting.

The night before, eight blocks away, Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz
had stood on a third-floor balcony of City Hall, gazing out over the
stricken city of more than 1 million.

With admirable gusto, considering the surreal circumstances, Reyes had
belted out "Viva Mexico," the traditionalgrito of independence, first
sounded Sept. 16, 1810, by revolutionary Miguel Hidalgo in the town of

Because of security considerations, including two recent car bombs,
the city had told everyone to stay home and watch the ceremony on 

Thus, instead of delivering his shouts to a boisterous crowd of
thousands who would answer in kind, the mayor had only a couple of
dozen grim soldiers and federal police, and a few reporters, for a
live audience.

But many here agreed with the city's precautions. Juarez is in a state
of siege. Since Reyes' term began in late 2007, more than 6,000 people
have been killed in a clash of drug cartels and derivative violence.

Earlier this year, Reyes, an upbeat, bilingual Notre Dame-educated
businessman, was threatened with beheading.

It was the next day that Lara and I visited the plaza. From City Hall,
we walked up Avenida Benito Juarez, once a thriving tourist strip of
bars, restaurants, pharmacies, souvenir shops and cut-rate dentists.

Now it is shabby and lifeless. Most of the businesses are closed. The
tourist vendors are long gone. The adjacent red-light district, La
Mariscal, has been bulldozed for a city park.

Even the famed "Kentucky Club," a 90-year-old white-linen restaurant
and bar once patronized by El Paso businessmen and American movie
stars, is on its last legs.

"It's completely changed from when I came here 10 years ago," said
Antonio Chavez Juarez, 56, a published poet now selling books on a
blanket in front of a shuttered Woolworths.

"Juarez is destroyed. It is now a city of ghosts," he

A couple of hours later, we got the news: "They have just executed two
photographers from El Diario."

In five minutes, we arrived at the scene of the shooting, the Rio
Grande Plaza, an upscale mall on Paseo del la Triunfo de la Republica,
fronted by a McDonald's and a Burger King.

In the parking lot outside the Futurama Funiture Store, dozens of
federal and municipal police, wearing black masks and holding
semiautomatic weapons, milled around inside the yellow police tape.

Perhaps 100 peopled looked on, all focused on a small, wrecked gray
Nissan. A man with dark hair slumped in the driver's seat. One young
woman sat on the curb and sobbed.

A trail of spent cartridges on the pavement told part of the

"It happened very fast. They were journalists. Very young. What a
pity," an onlooker said.

Another man offered a much longer, albeit secondhand, version of the
event, told to him, he said, by an eyewitness who had been a few yards

The gray Nissan had been pursued through the parking lot by a vehicle
with two armed men. Trapped and then shot in the head, the driver
never made it out of the car. The passenger did.

"One ran out of the car. He was wounded in the waist. He ran into the
mall to try and get protection," he said, adding, "I don't want to get
involved. I'm afraid I'll be next."

A few minutes later, he found the witness, huddled by a wall, in the
back of the crowd, white-faced with terror. But he no longer had a
story to tell.

"I just heard the shots. I threw myself to the ground. I didn't see
anything," he muttered before slipping away.

Carlos Santiago Orozco, 21, the long-haired driver, and Carlos Manuel
Sanchez, 18, whom we had met a few hours before, had both recently
completed internships at the paper.

Santiago, who was about to begin his career as a staff photographer,
died of head wounds. Sanchez was wounded at least twice but was
expected to live.

The inexplicable attack came almost two years after a veteran El
Diario reporter, Armando Rodriguez, was killed in front of his home, a
case, like most others, that has never been solved.

The motive for the attack on the two photographers, and the identity
of the killers have become yet another Juarez mystery. And because
killers here act with almost absolute impunity and few cases are
solved, it is likely to remain so.

The only clue came a day later, when a "narco manta," as the large
self-promoting banners that are periodically hung from Juarez bridges
are known, referred to the attack.

It was signed, "La Linea," the enforcement arm of the Juarez Cartel,
one of the competing narco mafias rapidly destroying the city. It was
addressed by name to several law enforcement officials.

"The same thing will happen to you as happened to the journalists if
you don't return our money," was the message.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt