A Bad Day or a New Bloodbath?In one of the bloodiest days in the last year or more, nine people were murdered Monday, May 26, in the northern Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez. In separate incidents, guns, knives, hammers and possibly bare hands were the instruments of homicide.
A prominent lawyer, Salvador Urbina Quiroz, along with Judge Cesar Cordero, was gunned down by assassins as the two men were meeting in Urbina’s office on Monday afternoon. The state prosecutor’s office (FGE), which is offering a $20,000 reward for the information leading to the arrests of the killers, said two suspects were captured on videotape at the crime scene.
Urbina was well-known in Ciudad Juarez for his leadership in professional associations, as well as his critical, published commentaries on legal affairs and the so-called drug war.
The 52-year-old criminal defense attorney handled controversial cases including the 2011 defenses of teacher Ana Isela Martinez, a young woman popularly known as “Miss Ana” who was imprisoned and falsely accused of trying to transport drugs to the United States, as well as four members of the Jaguars unit of the municipal police accused of killing four men.
Urbina recently represented individuals accused of extortion and murder, and reportedly lost some of the cases.
He served as an assistant warden at a Ciudad Juarez prison from 2009-2011, the worst years of the recent violence that devastated the city of 1.3 million people. In 2012 Urbina’s colleague, Luis Mayans Patino, was murdered.
Leaders of the legal profession demanded justice and security following Urbina’s murder.
“We want this violent act clarified,” said Jose Maria Sifuentes, former president of the Ciudad Juarez bar association. “Of all the murders of lawyers, not a single one has been cleared up.” An estimated 60 lawyers have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua during the past five years, according to different media accounts.
The local press reported Urbina had been threatened at least twice. The first threat occurred after he left the assistant warden’s post, and the second one followed his withdrawal from the Jaguars case.
In 2011, Urbina moved across the Rio Grande to El Paso for several months. The lawyer penned a letter to friends the same year advising them that the FGE and Federal Police had warned him of serious danger to his life.
“The state and federal authorities confined themselves to warning me to get of the city immediately because of an evident threat on my life, without offering a solution or protection,” Urbina wrote. “Now it is the case that the good ones, social and human rights activists, have to run or die like some have done.”
In other violent incidents registered May 26, two hair stylists were separately bludgeoned or strangled to death. Members of the LGBT community protested the killings, appealing on the public to show solidarity with family members and help cover the funeral expenses.
In a multiple homicide, 60-year-old Isidro Gardie and two other men were shot to death outside Gardie’s small store in the Granjas Unidas neighborhood.
Extortion was suspected as the motive for the triple murder, since Gardie had reportedly refused to pay a “cuota,” or protection fee, charged by an organized crime group.
The two killers were identified as teenagers wielding at least one AK-47 assault rifle.
Combined with two May 27 gangland-style killings in the Juarez Valley and the Riberas del Bravo district the killings early this week brought the number of local homicides committed to at least 50 during May, making the month the bloodiest one in a year.
“There has been a steady drum beat of two, three execution-style killings,” said Dr. Howard Campbell, Ciudad Juarez researcher and drug war scholar at the University of Texas (UTEP) in neighboring El Paso.
The Riberas del Bravo shooting, which also targeted mom-and-pop grocery store owners and left a woman wounded, happened just hours after Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte and Mayor Enrique Serrano visited the zone.
The murders come at a time when sketchy and contradictory reports warn of a new surge of violence purportedly connected to attempts by the Zetas and other organized crime groups to re-shape Ciudad Juarez’s lucrative illegal drug business, which reportedly had been under the sway of now-imprisoned drug lord Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman’s Sinaloa group.
But in recent weeks, numerous murders have borne the stamp of organized crime conflicts and purges complete with decapitations and mutilated corpses.
In Mexico, such murders are typically accompanied by the posting of “narco messages” left on or near victims’ bodies, but if any such statements were left in any or all of the latest homicides they were carefully concealed from the public by the government and/or press.
Only two days before Salvador Urbina’s murder, Mexico’s Proceso news weekly published a pair of stories that claimed a “narco-pact” to lower the violence and smooth over drug export disputes had been sealed between the Sinaloa group and its foes in the Juarez syndicate last year, influenced in part by the transition from the Calderon to Pena Nieto administrations.
Nonetheless, the pact purportedly contained promises of a “cleansing” of undesired elements identified as extortionists, kidnappers and small time, freelance drug traffickers.
Relying on a supposedly well-positioned but unnamed source, Proceso contended that a man known as “El Chuyin” was now in charge of the Ciudad Juarez drug plaza, in conjunction with his La Linea group, the armed branch of the old Juarez drug organization.
As part of a strategy to return the drug business to a quiet but relentless money-making machine, an “express cleaning” of undesirables was in the offing, to be carried out by professional assassins, the source told Proceso.
According to the news magazine, Michoacan-produced meth is a vital part of the new business plan. Unnamed U.S. law enforcement sources confirmed to Proceso that meth trafficking is on the upswing in the Ciudad Juarez-El Paso export corridor, with shipments headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and other destinations.
In comments to FNS, UTEP’s Howard Campbell said he suspected some of the ongoing bloodshed could be related to the “reemergence” of the Juarez cartel and its allies, but cautioned that it was probably too early to tell whether full-blown violence was in store. Many of the recent murders, he added, could be the result of people being shaken down for protection payments or because of their involvement in the street drug trade.
Campbell said a combination of public pressure to clean up a corrupt police force, the U.S. government’s targeting of certain criminals, and the former Mexican federal government program of social and economic spending known as “Todos Somos Juarez,” or “We are all Juarez,” all helped lower the violence from its peak four years ago, but did not address the “underlying social and economic problems” of poverty and a lack of decent employment that keep a hot kettle of criminality stirring on the border.
“(Youth) do not believe in the government and the system, so crime is the logical solution,” Campbell said.
Additional sources: Lapolaka.com, May 27, 2014. Arrobajuarez, May 27, 2014. El Diario de Juarez, May 26 and 27, 2014. Articles by Luz del Carmen Sosa and editorial staff. Norte, May 27 and 28, 2014. Articles by Carlos Huerta, Miguel Vargas, Ricardo Espinosa, and editorial staff. Proceso, May 24 and 25, 2014. Articles by J. Jesus Esquivel.
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