Life and death on the streets of Juárez
In Ciudad Juárez, 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.
This was my third visit to Juárez 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.
The motive for the attack on the two photographers, and the identity of the killers have become yet another Juárez 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 Juárez bridges are known, referred to the attack.
It was signed, “La Linea,” the enforcement arm of the Juárez 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.
Ciudad Juárez police patrol the city’s central business district Thursday. Later in the day, a staff photographer for El Diario newspaper was killed by gunmen in Juárez. Jerry Lara/Express-News