As Mexico plunges into the crucial election season of 2012, the ongoing slaughter of young people continues to spark outrage, spill tears, destroy families and raise fundamental questions about the country’s future. This month, the murders of two young men in Ciudad Juarez and Monterrey were protested by friends and loved ones with emotional postings on Facebook and other social media networks.
On March 6, 28-year-old law student Pedro Ortiz Hurtado was among three people gunned down in an incident in the Ciudad Juarez neighborhood of La Chavena. Colleagues at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez (UACJ) employed Facebook to convene a “peaceful and solemn” act in memory of a beloved friend whose life was cut short. Ortiz, said friend Alejandra Ibarra, “was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” but nonetheless stigmatized by media reportage that lumped his slaying together with thousands of other unsolved crimes.
Accompanied by music, a moving video tribute to Ortiz was posted on You Tube. In another crime that stunned the UAJC, 26-year-old dentistry student Christian Fernando Castaneda Sanchez was found murdered March 14 outside the city of Jimenez in the south-central part of Chihuahua state, where he was assigned to complete his required social work. Castaneda went missing last week.
At least 17 members of the UACJ community have been murdered in the violence that’s torn apart Ciudad Juarez during the past four years.
In Monterrey, students and professors in the philosophy and letters department of the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon held a March 9 protest in honor of Jose Fidencio Garza Neri.
Described as a socially-aware sociology student, Garza was shot while painting slogans in the street against the violence, which like in Ciudad Juarez, has turned a once-thriving city upside down. Members of the university’s student assembly also denounced what they termed “the absurd (narco) war” allegedly unleashed by the federal government.
On March 14, that war raged unabated when as many as 10 killings were reported in the Monterrey area alone, including one massacre in which five young men initially reported to be less than 20 years of age were shot to death and a young female passerby wounded.
In Tijuana, meanwhile, the 21-year-old manager and member of the norteno group Los Junoirs, Carlos Alberto Hernandez Mancillas, was slain and three other young people who accompanied him were wounded in another gangland-style attack this week. Media reports linked the attack to the earlier singing of a nacro-corrido.
Since the intensification of drug-related and other criminal violence more than five years ago, young people have figured prominently among the victims. The killings have been so numerous that they’ve given rise to the term “youthcide.” For instance, in the state of Morelos south of Mexico City, two non-governmental organizations recently estimated that at least 600 of 1,500 murder victims since 2009 have been people under 30 years of age.
Victims have been tortured, shot to death, decapitated and hanged from overpasses.
According to the Independent Human Rights Commission of Morelos (CIHM), most of the killings have been concentrated in the state capital of Cuernavaca followed by the municipalities of Temixco, Jiutepec, Cuautla, Xochitepec, Emiliano Zapata, and Huitzilac.
In a recent case that attracted wide press coverage, four young men and boys were murdered, their bodies chopped to pieces and then dumped in front of Cuernavaca’s popular Barba Azul bar.
Mexican law enforcement pointed to a dispute between the Beltran Leyva and La Familia crime organizations, both of which had been reportedly weakened by leadership losses and internal splits, as a possible motive for the slayings. But Jose Martinez Cruz, CIHM spokesman, criticized the authorities for convicting the victims in the eyes of public opinion before conducting a genuine investigation, “seemingly to justify the crime.”
The Barba Azul victims were indentified as Brandon Contreras Gutierrez, 13; Alejandro Catalan Ramo, 17; Lenin Eduardo Sanchez Montesinos, 20; and Bryan Gomez Bustos, 21. All the victims were students who lived in Alta Vista, a troubled Cuernavaca neighborhood.
Pedro Luis Benitez Velez, spokesman for the Morelos state attorney general’s office, denied there was an official intent to “justify” the crime while investigators were still probing the mass murder.
Among the killings still plaguing Mexico, two slayings in particular got ample attention recently. A casualty of “collateral damage,” seven-year-old Alexa Marten Gomez was struck down by bullets in Guadalajara when gunfire broke out after gunmen presumably affiliated with the New Generation Jalisco Cartel set up roadblocks with burning vehicles to protest the detention of their purported leader, Eric “El 85” Valencia Salazar, by the Mexican military on March 9.
The arrest of “El 85” apparently did little to stop the group. Early on the morning of March 14, numerous narco-banners signed by the underworld group were simultaneously displayed around Guadalajara apologizing for the inconvenience of the roadblocks and urging citizens to turn in members of the rival Zetas criminal organization.
In Ciudad Juarez, 10-year-old Cassandra Valdez was stabbed to death in her home during a possible robbery on Saturday, March 3. Born in California and a former resident of El Paso, the girl lived with her economically-struggling mother and younger brother but was home alone when she was said to have been killed.
Cassandra’s slaying triggered outpourings of grief among her classmates, some of whom heard about the murder on the news. “It is very difficult to explain to the children what happened and how their friend will never return,” the principal of the school Cassandra attended was quoted.
Cassandra’s mother, Zulema Valdez, described her daughter as a shy “princess” who told mom how much she loved her.
Jose Luis Flores, executive secretary of the Network for Children in Ciudad Juarez, demanded firm actions in favor of the many children impacted by violence in the border city.
“It’s evident that public policy is failing and the ones responsible for it should act,” Flores said. “There are very difficult situations for families with few economic resources; this is the problem at the heart of the matter that needs immediate attention.”
Meantime, no one has been arrested for the brutal murder of young Cassandra Valdez.
Sources: El Sol de Tijuana, March 15, 2012. Article by Manuel Cordero. Proceso/Apro, March 14, 2012. Nortedigital.com, March 14, 2012. Articles by Herika Martinez Prado and Hector Macias. Lapoliciaca.com, March 14, 2012. El Diario de Juarez, March 6, 10, 12 and 14, 2012. Articles by Diana Martinez Rodarte, El Universal and editorial staff. Lapolaka.com, March 14, 2012.
La Jornada, March 10, 11, 13 and 14, 2012. Articles by Mauricio Ferrer, Juan Carlos Flores, Gustavo Castillo, Rubicela Morelos Cruz, David Carrizales and editorial staff. Oem.com.mx/elmexicano, March 9, 2012. Article by Carlos Ramirez. El Paso Times, March 7, 2012, Article by Alejandro Martinez Cabrera and Marisela Ortega Lozano.
Frontera NorteSur: on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico