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Thursday , November 15 2018
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Just a Shot Away? Ciudad Juárez Residents Fear New Cartel War May be Coming

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — Teresa Rodriguez might have found comfort inside this border city’s famous downtown cathedral Tuesday afternoon when she stopped in for a midday mass after running errands. But after leaving Our Lady of Guadalupe church, she was back on guard.

“That’s close enough,” she told a reporter just a dozen or so paces from the church’s main entrance. She shielded her eyes from the sun with one hand and raised the other in a “halt” gesture before adding. “You know, because of everything that’s been going on.”

Rodriguez survived the war between rival drug cartels that raged in this industrial border city from 2008 to 2011 — and with violence on the upswing again, she’s taking extra precautions.

From January through last Sunday, there were 829 reported homicides here, including 114 in August, according to local media reports. The monthly average stands at six per day, though it’s unclear if the latest surge means the beginning of another turf war like the one that began in 2008 and resulted in more than 10,000 killings here.

Experts say the latest bout of fighting is between former cartel allies — the Juárez Cartel and the Barrio Aztecas — vying to claim the downtown area as their own. But the how or why seems less important to the people whose main concern is instead how long this new surge in killings will last.

“There are innocent people that are there when they get to a business and the hitmen show up,” said Rodriguez, 69. “And they don’t just kill [the target] — they kill all of them.”

The homicide total includes 29 children, the most recent of whom died Sunday after getting caught in a crossfire the week before, the Diario de Juárez reported.

Howard Campbell, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso whose research focuses on the U.S-Mexico border, sees the current wave as unique because most of the violence is concentrated in downtown Ciudad Juárez.

“What’s different about this is it’s just over and over and over again that people are getting murdered in these areas where the Aztecas live, which is right in the heart of the downtown area,” he said. “So a lot of these killings have been in broad daylight.”

The Barrio Aztecas in Juárez are affiliated with Aztecas in El Paso, but Campbell said the Juárez Aztecas operate independently. And while the organization was once aligned with the Juárez cartel, it has since split and is fighting to keep a foothold in the city.

Campbell said the end could come when one gang ousts the other, but what he sees as perplexing in this situation is that it’s the hometown gang that’s being squeezed out.

“It looks to me the Aztecas are losing, and that’s pretty shocking,” he said. “It’s like going on somebody’s home court and kicking their ass.”

There is the added element of the prevalence of methamphetamine dealers trying to find a niche in the Juárez market. While cocaine, pot and heroin have historically been the illicit goods of choice for street peddlers, methamphetamine has been making its way into the traditional markets largely because of the increased presence of another major cartel: the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación.

“[The Aztecas] see meth as a threat to their business, and it’s only recently that meth has made an appearance in Juarez,” Campbell said. “The influx of meth and the people that sell it are contributing to this conflict. And the Jalisco people are the biggest meth producers and meth controllers, so they have a lot to do with this.”

The city government has acknowledged the surge in killings, but leaders there say it’s not going to rise to past levels. During a Mexico-U.S. border summit in El Paso last week, Roberto Rentería Manqueros, Ciudad Juárez’s secretario del ayuntamiento, a high-ranking position on the city council that serves as the administration’s second in command, conceded his city is having issues due to “disgraceful” acts by criminal elements. But he said he didn’t see what’s happening today as comparable to the war a decade ago.

“What caused the great worry for Juarenses 10 years ago was that the crimes affected common people. That was the impact,” he said. “What we’ve seen currently is that the crime that’s increased are murders are between the [warring groups].”

Just north of the Rio Grande in El Paso, city leaders still see the need to remind outsiders that their city is one of the safest in the country despite what happens in Mexico. A decade ago, lawmakers and tourism officials were engaged in a nonstop public relations effort to convince potential visitors and business investors that El Paso wasn’t affected by what was happening south of the river.

Last week, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said the violence in Ciudad Juárez has always affected El Paso but that it was up to people to see for themselves what the reality of the situation actually is.

“It has an impact, it always has,” he said. “During [times of high violence], people said, ‘How can you come down to El Paso?’ The point is, we got to get people here to understand the uniqueness of our region. Everyone keeps talking about the border, but no one has been down here.”

As the situation plays out, there will be people like Leonardo Cortez, a maintenance worker at the El Paso Museum of Art who lives in Ciudad Juárez — and asks himself every day how far things will escalate.

“The mayor is preoccupied with things other than security, and everyday people are getting killed,” the 54-year-old said. “The gangs don’t respect the citizens, they don’t respect God. There is no respect for life.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas at El Paso has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Author: JULIÁN AGUILAR – The Texas Tribune

UTEP, El Paso, Juárez Among Finalists for Cross-Border Art Project Funding

The Stanlee and Gerald Rubin Center for the Visual Arts, along with the Cities of El Paso and Juárez, are in the running for an award that will provide funding for a joint cross-border art installation.

Bloomberg Philanthropies announced that El Paso is one of 14 cities that could receive up to $1 million as part of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge.

“The Rubin Center has a dynamic history of presenting contemporary art that involves artists and audiences from both sides of the border,” said Kerry Doyle, director of the Rubin Center at The University of Texas at El Paso.

“This partnership with the City of El Paso, the El Paso Community Foundation and our partners in Juárez highlights the strong connections we have with our sister city, and the importance of building bridges for the future.”

The proposed art installation is titled “Border Tuner.” The project, led by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, includes a series of light and sound installations that will connect El Paso and Juárez with robotic searchlights that make a bridge of light. The light sources open bidirectional live sound channels that allow people from each side of the border to communicate with each other from three stations at Juárez’s Chamizal Park and three at Bowie High School in El Paso.

In February, Bloomberg Philanthropies invited mayors from U.S. cities with a population of 30,000 or more to submit proposals for temporary public art projects. More than 200 cities applied with proposals that fostered creative collaboration, addressed civic issues and supported local economies through public art.

Bloomberg Philanthropies will select at least three winners among the 14 finalists in the fall to execute their projects over the course of 24 months. The grants will cover project-related expenses but will not fund 100 percent of the total project costs.

Other participating foundations for the El Paso/Juárez art project include the El Paso Community Foundation, Fundación Comunitaria Paso del Norte and the state government of Chihuahua.

Video+Gallery+Story: Minnesota Teens Volunteer to Build Homes in Juarez

Late last year, a busload of teenagers pulled into Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care (YLM), in El Paso’s Lower Valley. More than a few of the kids had a look of expectant wonder on their faces as they had made this trip before. Others were beginning to wonder what they had signed up for.

Yet, here they were, ready to begin a trip that would help shape their futures.

I’ve previously written that I am the type of guy that tends to view everything through a jaundiced eye. With all I’ve been through, it’s hard not to. That’s why, when I see something positive, I must write about it. When that story also involves a group of fifty teenagers spending their Christmas vacation building homes in Juarez, I really must write about it.

Imagine, a group of kids coming from Mayer, Minnesota, to build homes for people they don’t even know, in a country, most of them have never visited before. Then, learning that the youngest person on the trip is thirteen-years-old, and you have something you take notice of.

Mayer Lutheran High School is a school within the Lutheran Church Missouri-Synod. At the core of their teachings and beliefs is service to others. The same is true of YLM. For over thirty years YLM has been striving to change lives- Changing Lives Through Simple Acts of Kindness, is their motto.

I’m not going to tell the story of the kids who came down to build these homes; it’s better to hear it from them directly. You can watch the video I made with them here above.  The story I am going to share with you is quite different. The story I want to share with you is about
need, about unity and about how it shouldn’t matter where one is from, or where one decided to help.

Over the last year, I have seen our country become polarized. Simply put there are two schools of thought. You either agree with the mainstream view, or you are labeled as a leftist, close-minded, or a moron.

It seems you must agree with everything the current administration preaches, or you will simply be an outsider looking in.

When I was considering this article, in early January, I spoke to several individuals about the work YLM is doing, and more specifically, the homes these kids are building in Juarez.

The most common refrain was that they should be working over here, in the United States. So, I spoke to Dave Lane, one of the teachers on this trip to El Paso, and Juarez.

“I had a lady, in one of our fundraising events, for this, tell me that specifically.” said Dave Lane, “I said, I don’t think it’s either-or, I think it’s both-and. Of course, people need to be helping people in our country, but who’s going to help those people in Anapra?”

As Dave said, he doesn’t see any agencies in Juarez working to help families in need. Don’t get me wrong; there are people who do help. But how far can their limited resources go?

That’s why it’s important that individuals such as Dave Lane, and his group of kids come down to help families in need.

Now, imagine a world where Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care or Mayer Lutheran High School didn’t exist. Imagine those individuals who have received home, home extensions, food baskets, or the free medical care that is hosted on their Lower Valley campus. Where would those people, those families be?

Were it not for those groups, there would be 3,000 families, on both sides of the border, who would possibly be homeless, or worse. There would be families who would not be able to make their limited supply of groceries last between paychecks were it not for the food baskets provided by YLM to families in need.

Ysleta Lutheran Mission Human Care is one of a limited number of groups reaching out and serving those in need. Regardless of religion, race, or political leanings, YLM – and others – exist to help.

This is what we need to remember, to serve others.

Rabbi Shalom of Karlin, in the 18th Century, said “If you want to raise a person from mud and filth, do not think it is enough to keep standing on top and reaching a helping hand down to the person. You must go all the way down yourself, down into the mud and filth. Then take hold of the person with strong hands and pull the person yourself out into the light.”

Any group that is willing to get down into the “mud” and help, they are worthy of our help and support.

“G-d does not need our good works,” Martin Luther, Father of the Reformation said, “but our neighbor does.” (Wingren, Luther on Vocation, 10).

So, I want to challenge you; I want to know where you are. Are you sitting there, on the sidelines, waiting for someone to help? Or, are you willing to help? That’s where I challenge you, to get up, get out and help.

Take a moment this week to speak to your Rabbi, your pastor, your parish priest. As them how you, as a community of faith, can help those who are hungry, are homeless, who are sick. Ask what can be done, and where to begin. You may be surprised as they just might be waiting for you to get the ball rolling.

Hillel the Elder said, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

My answer to Hillel? It is us; it is now.

Photos provided by Mayer Lutheran High School.

City Introduces New Technology to Improve Wait Times, Border Crossing Efficiency

Cross-border commuters in El Paso and Juárez will have access to real-time bridge wait time information as part of an unprecedented program launched by the City of El Paso.

“For the first time, the City of El Paso is giving commuters who travel between El Paso and Juárez the opportunity to access truly up-to-the-minute bridge wait time information through our new Web site,” said Mathew McElroy, Director of the City of El Paso’s International Bridges Department. “This innovative program goes even further by making commuters part of the solution; the Web site is powered by the Metropia smartphone application, which gathers real time information from commuters who are crossing the border 24 hours a day.”

Border crossings in the El Paso-Juárez region are among the most active on the continent. Recognizing the strategic importance of cross-border commerce, travel and tourism, the City of El Paso is leading this regional effort to address congestion.

In the near term that can reduce bridge wait times and air pollution; in the long term information acquired through this program will inform long-term policy decisions and investment in transportation infrastructure.

To further incentivize use cross-border use of Metropia’s smartphone app, Metropia’s navigating capability have been expanded to include address-to-address routing which minimizes congestion in El Paso and Juárez.

In addition to building routes which minimize congestion within each city, cross-border navigation from Mexico to the United States will direct motorists to the least congested border crossing.

Metropia’s smartphone application includes separate wait time information for heavy trucks, private motor vehicles and pedestrians.

El Barrio del Diablo: Life in Montoya – Nature Calls

In 1965 we moved to the outskirts of town to the Upper Valley. After living in the projects for five years, it was a bit weird for me to get used to this unincorporated area in west El Paso.

It looked like a barren countryside for miles as we traveled West Paisano Drive (CanAm Highway), from downtown, then connected to Doniphan to get to Montoya. Whenever we went to Juarez my dad always took this route.

Screen Shot 2017-02-11 at 9.26.31 AMBut that was his drag of choice: West Doniphan Drive…or Highway 80.

A long stretch of lonely road that started from ASARCO’s Smeltertown and extended to the New Mexico border near the town of Anthony – roughly fifteen miles as the crow flies.

The street lamps at night became so few and far between that from my POV in the backseat of the car, some lights seemed to cast ghostly shadows on the road and the brush.

I guess I watched too many scary movies.

To say there weren’t many businesses out here would be an understatement; a lone traveler would certainly be in a tight spot if their car broke down or ran out of gas.baarber

So it was another one of those Saturdays when we all piled into the car and traveled across the border to visit relatives and buy groceries.

On this day my older brother Vince drove, papa rode shotgun and mom and I were in the back. Since dad was relaxed in having a designated driver, I’m sure he had visions of his favorite fire-water beverages dancing in his head.

monoWe stopped at a peluqueria and got our haircuts at a nice barber shop across the street from the Plaza de Toros Alberto Balderas. And mom always shopped at the Mercado for produce, pan dulce and other snacks.

I’d buy a goofy looking puppet and maybe a spinning top.

Somewhere else along the way papa would get a wooden crate of 24 sixteen-ounce soda bottles.

Half of it were all Cocas, the rest a mix of Seven Up, orange and strawberry flavors.coke

He also bought his two cartons of red Marlboros and would gas up the car with Pemex fuel.

Next, we’d go see our abuelos. My Tio Fito and Tia Ema lived alongside so we also visited with them and stayed a while. Out of sheer convenience, papa would go to the corner bar and have a few.

And after that he’d have a few more.

tresNext on the list was a birthday celebration at our Tia Quica’s house, papa’s favorite sister. They lived past La Plaza de Toros Monumental, over by El Seminario . We spent the entire day there, enjoying good food, cake, sodas, games and music.

There was a pomegranate bush in the front yard and we’d pick a couple ripe ones, spending a long time peeling it carefully to get the juicy seeds out. Kept us out of pometrouble.

At the end of a long afternoon of fun and games, it all came to a close. We hugged our tios and said our long goodbyes, waving adios as we drove away.

Tio Rogelio and Tia Quica were always wonderful to all of us – I liked going to their house a lot.

While we waited in line at the bridge over by the Chamizal, we slowly approached the customs agent booth.

bridgeStill feeling the inebriated buzz from his day’s intake, papa gave me some border-crossing advice: “Waldo…cuando te pregunta el señor en donde naciste, dile que eres nalgas prietas”. Mom giggled, Vince laughed and I didn’t get it.

Why I would want to tell a customs agent that my butt was brown?

We greeted the agent, crossed over and no, I didn’t take my dad’s advice.

The sun had set and it was still another warm night as we drove into town, heading home on the same route along Paisano. Tired from a long day of visiting and partying it was quiet inside the car as we passed up the last of the fading city lights.

The evening got pitch black except for the dashboard’s glow and the high beams shining on the road a couple hundred feet ahead. I don’t recall much traffic at all, it was just another quiet night.

Doniphan Drive had no shoulder; just dirt that led to the many bushes and brush that paralleled the road about fifty feet from the asphalt. We were about ten miles from home when Papa broke the silence. “Para el carro, tengo que hacer”. Vince pulled over on command, slowed to a stop and our extra-extra large father figure got out. I whispered, “What did he say?”, Mom replied, “Tiene que hacer chi”. “Oh, he’s gotta pee,” I said.

He walked about thirty feet from the car close to the bushes with lots of room to spell his name on the ground if he wanted. In the quiet of night, with zero traffic around we all waited. Then we hear him say aloud: “Necesito papel”. We looked at one another. “What?” I said in amazement, “He needs paper? He pooped outdoors? Really?”

Like magic, mom grabs a roll I didn’t know we had in the back seat and hands it to Vince, volunteering him. “Toño, llevaselo”. Vince grabs the roll, looks at me … and says, “Here, take this to him”. Oh no…I got handed the hot potato…do I give it back to mom? … I thought about it for half a second. Meanwhile papa is waiting.

I sighed out loud and as I opened the door a car suddenly drove by on our side of the road. I froze. Their high beams lit everything up in its path: all of us, papa and the entire scene around him, including the evidence.

That moment was like a scene in a movie – when a UFO lights up the entire countryside at night. The brightness illuminated all of us like a big round prison spotlight.

Screen Shot 2017-02-11 at 9.46.38 AMBusted, and what timing. Obviously the people in the passing car witnessed a full moon that night – and so much more. My door was still open and as I sat there momentarily, I could not believe this turn of events. I reluctantly got out of the car and walked sideways towards a very unconcerned father.

Trying not to look in his direction, I edged myself closer to where my peripheral vision sees an outstretched hand. He grabs the roll and I want to run, but I walk back humiliated and get back in the car.

As we wait in the car I turn to see him buckling his belt, standing over the object of his creation. And as if it were a pet he looks down and gestures at it with a pointing finger saying loudly, “Ahí te voy a dejar, y mañana vengo a recojerte”.

“I’m leaving you there, and I will pick you up tomorrow”.

Mom giggled out loud, Vince laughed like I have never heard before, and I shook my head in disbelief.

Papa got in the car and without a word we all continued home in silence as if nothing had happened – oblivious to the moonrise coming out from behind Mount Franklin.

Jose Oswaldo RicoJosé Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor

Previous  columns HERE

Guest Contributor: Dancing to Defy, Longing to Live Free

There’s a place in the world, just south of the United States border, that many talk about, but rarely go.

A city that is a police state, plagued with what seems like a never-ending drug war, government corruption, and extreme poverty for as long as many people can remember.  This city is Ciudad Juárez.

The flashing lights of the federal government police vehicles are a sad strobe, bouncing off the shattered windows of the businesses closed since the violence started.  But in the midst of a country divided by a war with itself, sanctuary can be found in the Ciudad Juarez nightlife.

So I went out in search of these havens.

My first stop was on the corner of Paseo Triunfo de la Republica and Calle Lara Leos at a second story cafe bar called Asenzo.

I walked up the spiral staircase and was greeted by the deafening and familiar sounds of a STRFKR cover of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper. The smell of cigarettes hung in the cold winter air and filled the lungs of the party-goers, all looking for an escape from the realities of their country.

I excused myself from my company to use the restroom and was greeted by walls decorated in sharpie marker. There was poetry, profanities, and love notes about heartbreak and the feeling of emptiness.

I returned to my friends and we made our way to the dance floor. People moved their bodies to the hypnotizing music. The darkness of the dance floor turned the dancing bodies into nothing but silhouettes swaying gracefully – like dandelions in the wind. I was infatuated by this.

It was a world different than the one I’d just walked in from. Outside there was sirens, hunger, missing women and war; but in here, there was beauty and a passion to be free.

I read once that “en Ciudad Juarez a bailar es un acto de desafío” which translates to “in Ciudad Juárez, to dance is an act of defiance”. The kids wanted to dance and they did just that.

Our second stop was a gay bar named Cavas. The inside was decorated with much like any other bar: dark, but painted by the strobing colors of the rainbow light system. At the bar I saw men flirting with beautiful trans women.

It wasn’t much different than the gay bars in the United States but at the same time it was.

This gay bar was located in the middle of a war zone – nonetheless these people were here and they danced which the same defiance as the people in Asenzo. They all longed for the same freedoms  their brothers and sisters just north of the border have.

These people inspired me. They kept dancing and – in a way – that meant that they kept fighting.

That night, I was invited to spend the night by my guide. As we took the uber back to his house, I stared out into the street and thought about the struggles of the Juarenses. I thought about all the articles and news reports that highlighted the violence and war and felt a sense of sadness that no one ever highlighted the beauty that I’d seen that night.

These people were fighters. They were lovers. They were artists and dancers. They were poets.

And they were living; and in Ciudad Juarez, that means something.




Guest Contributor: Chandelier Kahlo

Previous Column HERE

Jay’s Journal – Visitors to Juárez keep man parking cars for 20 years

Robert Schriver’s job seems easy enough. Wave the cars in, collect the money. But it can come with its share of troubles.

“I’ve knocked some teeth out. Some people want to cause trouble.”

Robert parks cars at a Rio Grande Parking lot right at the base of the Santa Fe Bridge, which is the starting point for many trips to Ciudad Juárez. I see Robert there so often, I assumed he owned the lot and that the $4 per car he collects went straight into his pocket. Turns out, I’m not so bright.

“Do you think I would be standing out here in the sun if I owned this place? Come on, now, don’t be stupid.”

In fact, at least some of his troubles come from the owner of the lot. They’ve had some battles over the years, even some punches thrown, but Robert has been working the lot since the 1990s, and they have found a way to sort through those problems.

Photo: Google

The Schriver family may not own the lot, but it’s still a family operation. Robert said he’d probably leave the job, but he stays for his dad, Ralph, who works the lot with him, along with his aunt.

Everyone who drives or walks by seems to know him, though perhaps not his name. They all say hello, but everyone calls him guero. “Any spots left, güero?” “Come have a drink with me in Juárez, güero!” “Qué pasó, güero?”

Even the folks who don’t like him, the drunks or the owners of impounded cars, they call him güero, too. Just with a few extra expletives thrown in.

Personally, I’ve never gotten used to being called güero. Even after 15 years of living in El Paso, I don’t like it. To me, it feels like people are saying, “Hey, white boy!” Which essentially is what they are saying. But Robert says it doesn’t bother him. What does bother him is when people, when he was younger, would see the scars on his head, and name him after the doll in the movie “Child’s Play.” He dislikes the name so much, he doesn’t say it.

“You mean Chucky?” I ask. He just gives me a look and doesn’t answer.

For as long as Robert has been working, he’s worked at this corner of the border. Before he worked at the lot, he had a job at the used

Picture: Google
Picture: Google

clothing warehouse just a block away at Santa Fe Street and Montestruc Court.

Like many who have been in the building, he has a ghost story. He said he was once sent to a lower floor by himself, and he saw a ghostly figure. When he realized it wasn’t a human, he ran.

“It was dark, and I was freaked, so I ended up running straight through an old plaster wall. They told me I had to fix it, and I said, ‘No way.’ There was no way I was ever going down there again.”

Robert, who graduated from Eastwood in 2000, speaks perfect Spanish.  Formal Spanish? No. In fact, when I ask where he learned Spanish, he just says, “I don’t know. I just picked it up.” But, perfect, nonetheless.

“You wouldn’t last long at this job if you didn’t speak Spanish,” he says.

But despite his Spanish skills, and spending the day parking the cars of those heading to Juárez, he doesn’t cross the border anymore. He says he quit during the worst days of the city’s violence and has no plans to return.

Like every person with a pulse in El Paso, he has his Juárez stories, though. As we discuss the times we’ve had to pay the mordida to the Mexican police, he laughs remembering the time he got so mad at how he was being treated, he paid a cop $40 for the right to punch his partner in the face.

“You can get anything you want in Juárez, if you have money, including the joy of punching a cop in the face,” he says.

Ahh, the joys of Juárez.

The Kentucky Club’s new outdoor seating offers the opportunity to have a beer while watching the world go by. (Photo-Jay Koester)
The Kentucky Club’s new outdoor seating offers the opportunity to have a beer while watching the world go by. (Photo-Jay Koester)

Haven’t been in a while? Well, now that you know where to park, here’s some more inspiration: The Kentucky Club, long the favored watering hole of many a güero checking out Juárez, has added outdoor seating.

If there is anything better than sitting in the Kentucky Club, soaking up the history and being in the same space where John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor and Benjamin Alire Sáenz had drinks, it is sitting outside the Kentucky Club, enjoying a beer or one of their famous margaritas while watching the action on Avenida Juárez.

Look north, and you can see the Franklin Mountains peeking above the line of cars waiting to head into the United States.

Look south, and you watch vendors hawking newspapers, taxi drivers hustling for customers and the club life begin to come alive as the sun goes down.

If you haven’t visited in awhile, it might be time. The terror of past years has faded, and if you’re still nervous, well, you don’t have to go too far on your first visit — the Kentucky Club is only a couple of blocks in.