By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
* * *
Sara Salazar watches the children play in the pool at Carlos Spector's home as the evening shadows grow and the desert heat lingers. Spector sits with a glass of wine talking to family members about what they must do to make the world know of the killing fields of Mexico. The old woman is silent. There is a famous photograph of her at the funeral of her daughter and son. The coffins sit side by side, and Sara, with her gray hair, ancient face and black trench coat, reels backward, arms outstretched over her dead. A kinsman catches her. Her mouth is open, and in the photograph, you can hear the scream roll out over the valley and across the Rio Grande into the United States. Mexican reporters asked her at the time if she felt guilty for getting her children involved in politics now that they had been murdered for their activism. The press knew better than to investigate who killed her children. There were 500 soldiers at the burial, guarding the remaining Reyes Salazar family members. None helped to dig the graves.
Protest is in the family blood. The father, a baker, got involved in politics after 300 students were murdered by the government in 1968 and many more disappeared in Mexico City on the eve of the Olympics. The family became Communists or joined other facets of the left in Mexico. In 2008, daughter Josefina Reyes, a longtime human-rights activist in the Juárez Valley, protested after her son was kidnapped. She told interviewer Julian Cardona,"Now you see all these big billboards, 'We [the army] have come to help you'—but it isn't true. They have come to pillage us, to ransack our homes. They take the food in the refrigerator, jewelry, anything . . . and they destroy property. It is not a secret who they are."
Josefina leads demonstrations, and eventually her son is released. But he is arrested again in 2009 and charged by federal officials in Mexico with being part of a drug organization based in the Juárez Valley. He is imprisoned in another state in Mexico and has not been tried. Another son of Josefina's, Julio Cesar, is taken a year later by unknown parties and killed. Josefina blames the army for her son's death. Rumors spread that he also was involved in drugs. Some members of the family leave Guadalupe and try to establish their bakery business in another town about 100 miles away. On Jan. 3, 2010, Josefina walks into a restaurant in Guadalupe. Men approach, some in uniform, and shoot her multiple times. Army vehicles are parked outside. Six months later, her brother Ruben is killed. He had continued to speak out to the media, calling the military to account for the attacks on his family and others in Guadalupe.
On Feb. 7, 2011, Sara Salazar is riding with a granddaughter and three other family members: her son Elias and his wife, Luisa, and her daughter Magdalena. All have chronic illnesses and are barely able to walk. Just after they pass a military checkpoint, masked gunmen stop the car. They force Sara and the granddaughter to the ground at gunpoint and take the others away.
On Feb. 15, the Reyeses stage a protest in Ciudad Juárez outside government offices. At the same time, their home in Guadalupe, less than 100 yards from an army barracks, is burned to the ground by armed men. Sara and two other daughters travel to Mexico City to protest, and they speak on national media, begging for the safe return of their missing family members. A couple of weeks later, the bodies of Elias, Luisa and Magdalena turn up by the roadside, covered in dirt and lime. The government announces that they have been killed because of their ties to the drug world.
* * *
Now the survivors sit under trees in the yard by the pool in El Paso as children play. More than 10,500 people have been murdered across the border in Juárez since 2008. The city is one of the most dangerous places on earth, with murder rates over the past five years ranging from 150 to 300 per hundred thousand. In the nearby small town of Guadalupe, the murder rate is closer to 2,000 per hundred thousand. New York City's murder rate is about six per hundred thousand.
The United States, the nation worried about terrorism, gives half a billion dollars per year to a Mexican army that murders and terrorizes Mexicans. The United States walls off Mexico on national-security grounds, and then decries imaginary violence spilling north across the border. The United States constantly praises the Mexican government for its brave fight against drug organizations, even though in the five and a half years since President Calderón launched the war that has resulted in the murders of at least 100,000 Mexicans, the delivery of drugs has not been disturbed and prices have not increased. The United States has helped to create a death machine, and now the eyewitnesses come north.
Americans must ask themselves this question about their War on Terror: What if the enemy is their treaty ally Mexico, and what if the problem is the state terrorism by that ally against the Mexican people?