Officially touted as having closed the chapter on the Great Violence of 2008-2012 and turning a new page in its history, Ciudad Juárez is experiencing a renewed bout of murder in public spaces. Three August murders illustrate how the violent upsurge is touching different sectors of society in the big border city.
Saturday evening, a car chase through downtown Juárez ended amid shots and a crashed vehicle one block from the Santa Fe Bridge that connects the Mexican city with El Paso, Texas.
A still-unidentified man who was driving the pursued automobile, described as a Chrysler with Texas license plates, was hit with a hail of 9 mm bullets and later died.
While crashing his vehicle, the man reportedly struck a parked taxi and pinned a woman pedestrian to it; she was subsequently transported to the hospital in unknown condition.
No arrests connected to the shooting have been reported.
As shots rang out, passersby hit the ground while U.S. border agents suspended the eviction of informal Mexican car window washers who earn tips on the bridge from motorists crossing into El Paso, according to news accounts. The area where the murderous chase unfolded is undergoing commercial and tourism redevelopment.
The Friday afternoon before the deadly incident at the foot of the international bridge, a man was shot to death during peak dining hours in the parking lot of the Los Arcos seafood restaurant while he was exiting the establishment with this family. The popular eatery is located on Paseo del Triunfo de la Republica, one of Juárez’s principal thoroughfares.
The victim was later named as Cesar Hector Diaz Orozco, reputed owner of two money exchange houses in the Pronaf and Las Americas districts near Los Arcos.
“I was getting ready to eat and upon hearing the shots we threw ourselves on the ground so we would be safe,” an unnamed Los Arcos customer was quoted in El Diario de Juárez as saying. “I gulped down a shot of beer thinking it would be the last one.”
Unidentified sources within the Chihuahua Office of the State Prosecutor, the law enforcement agency charged with investigating homicides in Juárez and Chihuahua state, were cited in the local press as saying money laundering was one of the lines of investigation in the slaying of Diaz.
Video surveillance showed two automobiles suspected of transporting Diaz’s assassins, but no arrests were immediately made.
Another widely reported murder occurred on the morning of Aug. 9, when bullets claimed the life of attorney Mayra Cristina Regalado Hernandez while she was driving a truck in Juárez’s busy Golden Zone, an area distinguished by upscale stores, hotels and the U.S. Consulate.
The 41-year-old lawyer was the legal representative of Carlos Bernardo Silveyra Saito, Public Notary #23. Silveyra is politically connected to outgoing Gov. Cesar Duarte and reportedly related to Jorge Quintana, outgoing Juárez municipal secretary, and Victor Quintana, a longtime social activist and former legislator who serves on Gov.-elect Javier Corral’s transition team.
Carlos Silveyra also directs the technical committee of the Border Bridge Fund, the agency charged with administering toll fees collected at Juárez’s international crossings. Regalado, who had enjoyed a long association with the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez, was said to be aspiring for a notary public position. In Mexico, notary publics wield more prestige and power than in the United States.
August’s murders recall the period from 2008 to 2012 when gangland-style executions happened at all hours and seemingly in all places. In an editorial urging renewed emphasis on public safety earlier this year, El Diario de Juárez summed up its assessment of the years when Juárez was known as the murder capital of the world:
“Terror destroyed this border, bankrupted thousands of businesses, shooed away hundreds of businesses and maquiladoras, provoked a historic unemployment, exiled more than 100,000 borderlanders, and left uninhabited houses all over the place…”
Although violence subsided significantly in recent years it did not go away, and a spate of high-profile killings in 2015, including the murders of Osvaldo Martinez Silva and his friend David Silva inside a VIP’s restaurant on Paseo del Triunfo de la Republic, rattled Juárenses who feared the homicides were harbingers of bad days to come.
Martinez, identified as the owner of a popular nightclub in the Pronaf/Las Americas area, was shot to death in front of his wife and eight-year old daughter as well as dozens of terrified diners. In 2016, Juárez homicides are running at a markedly higher pace than last year, when 311 people were reported slain, according to the Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice. The Mexican NGO based its 2015 homicide numbers on federal government data.
In contrast, at least 273 people were murdered in Juárez through Aug. 22 of this year, according to the local daily Norte. For the month of August alone, as of the evening of the 23rd, different press accounts report the number of homicide victims as ranging between 35 and 37.
Authorities partially blame the homicidal uptick on disputes related to the illicit methamphetamine trade. For instance, in one case earlier this year authorities suspected meth trafficking as a motive in the murders of four people, including Lorena Pineda Garcia, an employee of the nightclub Osvaldo Martinez once ran.
Until recently, meth was not a popular hard drug of consumption in Juárez; local preferences typically went for heroin or cocaine.
In addition to Ciudad Juárez proper, the adjacent Juárez Valley has also suffered violence in 2016. In recent days, residents of the municipality of Praxedis G. Guerrero denounced the presence of a group of 40 armed men that was threatening locals and blockading the highway. The Juárez Valley is a coveted corridor for smuggling drugs, immigrants and contraband of all sorts.
Fresh outbreaks of violence coincide with prickly political transitions at both the municipal and state levels, with victorious opposition candidates set to take office in October. Both the 2016 elections and political transitions have been splashed by high levels of narco-tainted violence in Juárez and Chihuahua state; the appearance of shadowy narco-banners displayed on public streets threatening officials like State Prosecutor Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas and Armando Cabada, the mayor-elect of Juárez; and polemics coupled with legal complaints over the genuine size, legality and purpose of a massive state debt of at least $2 billion that is being inherited by the new governor.
After strides toward recovery, elite sectors are voicing alarm at the new violence. On Monday, State Prosecutor Gonzalez, Juárez Public Safety Secretary Cesar Omar Munoz and outgoing Mayor Javier Gonzalez Mocken met with the leadership of the Juárez Chamber of Commerce in an apparent effort to calm nerves. Mocken assured Chamber members that the municipal police were working day and night to maintain law and order.
“There would be anarchy if it weren’t for the vigilance of the municipal police, but we still have situations to regret like what happened at Los Arcos restaurant or the fatal transit accident on Saturday,” Gonzalez was quoted in El Mexicano newspaper as saying.
Officials are considering the redeployment of soldiers and federal police officers to street patrols, and the return of vehicle checkpoints aimed at uncovering drugs and weapons. Both strategies were commonly employed during the Great Violence of 2008-2012, and the subject of ample controversy.
Additional sources: El Mexicano, August 23, 2016. ElPuntero.com.mx, August 21 and 22, 2016. Arrobajuarez.com, August 21 and 23, 2016. El Diario de Juarez; June 2, 2016; July 11, 2016; August 19, 21, 22 and 23, 2016. Articles by Juan de Dios Olivas and editorial staff. Nortedigital.mx, August 23, 2016. Articles by Miguel Vargas and Francisco Lujan. Lapolaka.com, August 9, 19, 20 and 23, 2016. Puentelibre.mx, April 2 and August 9, 2016. Proceso, August 9, 2016. Article by Patricia Mayorga.