Friday, November 02, 2007

Daily notes #3, Friday afternoon -Saturday morning

We are in the car again, on our way to Anapra Lomas, one of the poorest areas in Juarez, where many of the victims lived. On our way we pass many Yonkies; red, yellow, blue, green parts of cars (I think) are stacked in rows, half a car is hanging over the fence. I see Tortilla shops colorful painted. We stop at a light and suddenly I become aware of the light poles: they all have black crosses painted on them. The city tried to stop this action, but the victims’ families were allowed to do it because the poles were not under the cities control. (Didn’t understand the details of this)

As we come closer to Anapra Lomas, the roads become worse. Marisela tells us that actually the roads are finally being repaired closer to this area, not due to the need of the people in Anapra, but because a hotel is being built not far away…

Marisela points out a house, it says “Sorros del Diserto” (Neighborhood watches) on the wall. It is the “office” for a local organization that arrange research in the desert for bodies, and try to help protect the people in this area. The young men in Anapra Lomas have also organized themselves as guards, and are patrolling the area constantly. We see them on almost every corner. When we arrive the school is over, which means many children and young people in the streets. They all are very skeptical of any stranger, and specially any photos being taken. They suspect many of the missing girls were selected using cameras before they disappeared ….

As we come towards the “center” of this area, I see a white church. It looks so deserted in a way. Maybe because it is a real building, painted bright white, very clean and different from the rest of the area? Most of homes here are built of materials found on the streets. Facing the church I see a big white fence in a distance, on top of the hills behind the fence, I can see figures walking back and forth. These are the drug cartel’s mansions, patrolled by people hired to kill if someone comes close. When I turn the other way, I can see parts of the University of Texas, El Paso. The buildings look monumental from here.

Every light pole here has wires and lines going in all directions from them. People steel electricity by connecting themselves to the light poles and drag the line into their home. A very dangerous connection, causing many fires, electrocutions, both among the ones setting the line up to steel, but also among children playing on the ground. I can imagine how this looks like when rain have been poring down for a while…

Around the next corner, we see a support center also established and run by people living in the area. Kids are suddenly surrounding the car now, laughing, a boy makes a face to us. (We just passed the elementary school.) We have to make another stop, a road truck is stuck in the sand…

We are outside the PGR, “Procuraduria General De La Republica” to meet with Rolando Alvarado, the previous chief of investigation for the federal cases in this state.

We have to sign in. A woman takes us to the meeting room (Nakar whispers to me that she had a role in Bordertown, she was the substitute for Jennfier Lopez, in some scenes as her body looked like JLopez’.. !)

The room we come into looks very formal. Mexican flag on the wall, a round table where Marisela, Marcela and I sit to wait. Nakar and Jennifer sit on some chairs along the wall. Rolando Alvarado comes in, a man dressed in a crisp white shirt and a black suit. He smiles and greets us. He knows Marisela. He speaks a little bit English but prefer the conversation to be in Spanish. I show him the embroidered labels, and explain the project. He likes what has been done, but he says the situation has been magnified and turned worse than what is the reality. He tells us he cannot answer any question related to any ongoing investigation, partly because he no longer is in charge of the investigation. We ask him to explain how the investigation works in general. The federation government can only take on cases that fall under certain criteria. The crimes have to be proven organized, such as connected drugs- or organs trafficking. (Prostitution is not a crime). In February 2003 the federation government officially recognized 14 cases of the 300 women murders as federal cases.

The investigation of these cases resulted basically in showing how ineffective and corrupt the local police handle the cases (which he didn’t say clearly, but is my conclusion of his description). No one is today in jail convicted for these 14 crimes….

The story he told to explain the investigation of one of the cases was the case connected to a testimony from Miquel Angel Vasquez (Feb. 14th, 2003) given while in custody of local police. He admitted to have killed one of the girls. He claimed to have two other conspirators: Hernando Valles Contreras and Javier Garcia Chiuhuahua (“El Canario”)

These three individuals were in jail for 90 days, while the PGR investigated the cases further. The local police had captured Miquel through a prostitute’s testimony. The police had captured her for something else. On her, they found a cell phone, belonging to one of the killed women: Alajandra. The prostitute told that she bought the phone from Miquel Angel Vasquez, and identified him through a tattoo saying Miquel on his left fore arm. When GPR looks into this testimony, they discover that the tattoo tying Miquel to the cell phone sale was made late in 2003, long after the sale of the cellphone was claimed to have happened. No other evidence existed and Miquel was left free….

We ask him what protection he was given when investigating the cases and what protection the GPR can offer victims continuously threatened and having a local police without trust.

As for himself, he was protected only by a chauffeur, when he worked on the cases. As for families with continued threats, the federal government can only protect them if again this is connected to organized crimes. If so, they can move them, give them new identity etc. For all the rest, they can do nothing…

We ask him about the statue of limitations, telling when I case will be closed forever.

He is happy to tell us that the law has recently been changed from 14 years before, to minimum 20 and maximum 50 years now before a case is locked and closed for any further investigations.

He ends our conversation by telling his non-official hypotheses:

He believes the killings are not serial homicides, but occasional. In serial homicides the victims are looked for and the killings are planned. With occasional homicides an occasion presents itself, the criminal takes advantage of that moment….

By this the conversation is over, he takes us out to the hall and hurry on to a new meeting…

Marisela tells that she respect him for his honest trying to make a difference while when he was running the investigation. We didn’t find out why he was taken off the cases…

In the car again, crossing the border. Jennifer is going to get a new pair of jeans. Marisela asks us if we can do her a great favor when we get to El Paso. She has bought a coat that got ruined first time she wore it. The store refuses to take it back. She has a sense that if I try, looking western, I will not have any problem. I don’t. The coat is returned and money reimbursed me without any questions! While we cross the border we interview the three fantastic women and girl we have spent the day with, wanting to hear what are their driving force!

5 pm
We are dropped off outside the University of Texas, Liberal Arts department for our last meeting with professor Irasema Coronado.

We ask her how and why she became involved in the situation in Juarez.
She says that first of all she is a mother and grandmother herself. 7 years ago the daughter of a friend of her disappeared on a date to Juarez. She was supposed to meet the son of the chief of the local police. He claimed she never showed up, and was never questioned any further. Her car was found but never her. Anywhere, around a corner, in a store, the mother can still think she sees her, and she has to run over to take a closer look, only to find out it is just someone looking alike…

Irasema tells she don’t work closely with the mothers and the mothers family, She has found that the best she can do is raise awareness and try to have policy changes happen. She and another professor at the University, Kathleen Staudt, have worked on having the FBI and the US recognize the murders as binational issues. They have managed to have several resolution passed, through city councils and county government. They also managed to get 7 members of congress coming to El Paso and Juarez to look into the situation. We asked of any reports are being published after such visits, but unfortunately reports are not published. But the media coverage is important. They arranged a big rally and a march with Jane Fonda from el Paso to Juarez.

Every year they arrange a meeting against violence, inviting students from Juarez, and El Paso to participate.

Although maquilladoras, violence and corruption exist along the whole US-Mexican border, that kind of murders do not exist in any of other cities, why?

Irasema believes it is extremely important to work with the youth, to promote campaign respecting women and empower young women to be self sufficient. She also believes a shift in focus is needed, a shift towards looking at the man. Why is he being abusive, hitting or killing? Shelters for women and support to them are important, but equally important are to build up resource centers helping men and try to capture the root of the problem. Today such help does not exist.

Last she also believes it is very important to focus on the good things happening as well. Focus on the strength, believe in ability to make changes and put force and support into these areas through information, education, and campaigns.

The meeting is over. Feels like my head is spinning. Irasema takes us to our hotel. We rush to our room, we have been invited to go to the symphony with one of the contacts in El Paso. It starts in 15 minutes, but is located just across the street from the hotel. Both of us really want to go, we wash our faces, put on dresses, full of wrinkles, identical shawls and get tickets. Due to late arrival we have to hear the first part standing in the back, but then we sink into soft seats and continue to hear a fantastic violinist, Lara St John perform. I have never seen anyone play violin with such beautiful body movements. The conductor, Sarah Ionnides, from Australia, also was just fantastic to watch. It was like a performance in itself just to see her whole body move. The music felt like it was going through her somehow, with such elegance and strength. She looked “huge” up there.

We went back to the same café after the concert, and shortly after us the violinist, conductor and a young men sit down on the next table. The conductor was not huge in size at all, rather tiny, but with a fantastic presence. We thanked them for the wonderful concert.


Saturday Oct 20

Wake up to go to the lobby, with intention of starting to write on the blog, but unfortunately I check my emails first and find so many that needs to be answered….then a skype call and suddenly no time for blog.

Call Continental to get on an earlier flight back to Houston, space on the flight 11:30. Need to take a few more shots at the border and film the crossing the border one more time. Hotel shuttle takes us to Santa Fe bridge again and we cross a last time.

Back in the hotel again, just missed the shuttle to the airport, but another guy helps us out and takes us there. We get the tickets changed and sit down to have breakfast and a coffee. Somehow we now are so relaxed thinking everything has worked out, and we forget the time….

Suddenly we hear our names being called, they are closing the gate and we haven’t even walked through security,,,,STRESSSS,,,,Marcela runs through, but all my equipment have to be checked. I think this is my first experience of having the breeze from the doors closing behind me urging me not too gently to get into the plain…