On the border of chaos

JAWS CAMP 2010, JAWS CAMP blog l

Saturday Morning Panel at JAWS Camp 2010

These warrior journalists are risking their lives to tell the story of the war raging under our noses along the US border with Mexico, to tell the story of the many girls ages 13-20 years old who are disappearing each day from  the streets of Juarez.

On the Border panel

On the Border panel

  • Teresa Puente, moderator
  • Angela Kocherga of Belo Corp.
  • Adriana Gomez Licon, El Paso Times
  • Judith Torrea, journalist/blogger, Ciudad Juarez
  • Monica Ortiz Uribe, freelance radio/print reporter, El Paso

Note they are all women – warrior JAWdesses — and Latina. And all are keeping their eyes on gut wrenching stories of terror and implosion of civilized society.


* 28,000 drug related deaths have taken place in Mexico since Felipe Calderon took office.
* There are many border stories in the news right now:
The man’s death on the lake between Texas and Mexico.
A 20-year-old woman was named police chief of the town in the Juarez Valley just town just south of Ciudad Juarez.

An d there was another massacre at a party last night night at a party in Juarez, so when they go home Sunday, each of these journalists will pick up that story.

Licon: Juarez is the most violent city in Mexico. Covering the border can be overwhelming when you are one of the few people still interested in covering a story. I try to spot trend stories, like the 20-year-old woman who has come unarmed and unprepared to become the public safety officer, that tell how  life is changing in Juarez, which is so close to El Paso you cannot imagine… It is losing health care, doctors are closing, stores are closing, orphans are everywhere in Juarez. Schools are being affected as well. Life is really changed in the past three years.
I’ve been trying to capture those changes… Not a lot of reporters like doing these stories. But I am comfortable going there… Some are not comfortable or not interested. I go every week, twice a week and sometimes every day. I want to bring to the newspaper the coverage of that story. Some stories are under-reported, so that’s what I’m doing.

Torrea: I am from Spain, but my heart is in Juarez with the people who there who are fighting for a better life. I am a freelancer and live in Ciudad Juarez. I want to tell the story of what it’s like to live in a city where there is a war … where 26-27 people are killed every day; more than 10,000 businesses are closed. This is a ghost town. Some of my friends have left the city. The danger in Ciudad Juarez now is just to be alive…. As a journalist, you must tell the stories. You must tell the stories of the fight against the drug trafficking. In the ranking of the drug trafficking, the lowest people are so poor. they don’t have money for funerals, and, of course, the rich people don’t die in a drug war.   Here is my question to the people of the United States: How many people have to die for you to have a gram of cocaine? I see no pleasure in cocaine. I see blood… Who wants to feed this business? The only ones benefitting are the cartels.

Kocherga: It is remarkable that women are doing most of the coverage especially from the American side. We are witnessing the most violent time in Mexican history since the Mexican Revolution. We are trying to get beyond the body count and tell the stories that about the impact on the communities, the women and children. We are trying to bring a more sophisticated coverage … There is corruption on both sides of the border. People are fleeing for their lives.  One story recently is about the 20-year-old police chief. The Valley of Juarez, a prime smuggling routes. Two vicious cartels are fighting over this route. Beheadings shootings, local city government people murdered. But in Praxedis Guerrero … there is a new breed of police chief: She is young, unprepared and afraid, but still she has stepped up when no one else would to help rebuild the trust between the people in the community and the police. Her force will be unarmed. It’s natural to be afraid, all of us feel fear. Violence has forced many people to leave, but she is willing to stay and stand her ground.
More than a drug war: A war on women

Uribe: I too am proud that it’s the women reporting 24-7. All the men are in Mexico City … Before the drug violence, Juarez was known for the very very brutal murders of women, more than 400. Now what’s happening is women are going missing. Disappearing without a trace. We don’t know if they are even alive. The way it’s different is that in the past bodies would turn up. But now we don’t even have bodies that are turning up. There are about 15 I know of, but there are more I don’t know of. … Between the ages of 13 and 20, all live in marginalized neighborhoods coming from modest or low income families. everyone in the families work, many of them have the same physical characteristics: pretty young, long brown, hair, soft features. Many went missing while downtown or taking a bus transfer downtown. The last one was Monday…

Kocherga: The girls’ moms post flyers, but those posters disappear after only a day or so … There are theories and the strongest has to do with human trafficking and the sex trade. Juarez is a criminal’s paradise because of the lack of security. The police are absolutely overwhelmed. If those murders are unsolved other crimes go unsolved, too. It provides for opportunistic crimes. It’s uncanny how similar their cases are. It surprises me how very little coverage this story is getting. When there is a death or murder in Juarez there are questions “Was this person involved? Did he have it coming?” But with these girls I would venture to say that  these girls are completely innocent victims.
The story of the women’s disappeances can be foudn on Monica’s website: borderreporter.wordpress.com …  Judith’s blog: juarezenlasombra.blogspot.com/

How are women affected by the drug war and violence in everyday life in Juarez?

Licon: That’s an under-reported story: The working conditions in Juarez in the marginalized areas  in the maquiladoras… not a lot of women would do this for 12-16 hours a day. They don’t know where their kids are, not going to school, or there are no schools no clincics no sports, no recreation centers. When I was doing the story on orphans — 10,000 kids who have lost either mom dad or both — women were all telling me about raising the kids after the father dies. The kids are out there trying to find out who killed their fathers; the kids are suffering. They don’t know who to do go, they don’t trust police, there is no one they can call. Most of these factories were started under NAFTA by US companies… Elextrolux, FoxCon, Delphi, to name a few.
Kocherga: If we don’t deal now with the orphan problem, they will be the next generation of killers.
Torrea: Their living conditions are horrible: 70% of homes have no electricity, no paved streets, etc. … The city is dying, and of course the United States has a lot of responsiblity. We are journalists, we are women, and we have to report this.

How do you stay safe?

Kocherga: The risk that US journalists face pales in comparison to what Mexican journalists face. … There the news outlets just don’t run the stories. It’s too dangerous, so people have to look at Facebook and Twitter to see what is going on. Not a lot of US journalists are going in, either. …  Sometimes we’ll go together because we feel there is safety in numbers.
Some areas are 100 percent control by cartels. Those cities and regions are not being covered because the reporters are being threatened and even killed. These are transnational criminal organizations. The drugs, guns and cash don’t magically appear. We have gangs on both sides. Killers from this side are going over the border, too.  People are fleeing for their lives to the center of Mexico … These are business leaders, and that’s another fear: if you have that brain drain you are going to leave behind those who are more easily recruited into the drug cartels. And then we have an Afghan situation.

Is this affecting the economy in other tourist places, such as San Miguel?

There are places that are safe, but if the Americans don’t go down there and spend their money, they will be greatly affected. Tijuana is working to combat that.

What’s next for Mexico and the spreading of the cartel:

Uribe: It’s very important for those who are in the interior of the US because we are very busy covering the everyday tragedies… We can’t step back and give over-all coverage. We need you to cover that and explain that… Look in your own communities and see what kind of drug usage is there… Look at the gun sales. What kinds of precautions are being taken to keep these out of the wrong hands?
Is there any speculation on where these missing women are being trafficked to?
Uribe: Yes, there is indication they may be going to central Mexico and the United States.

The US gives $1.4 billion to Calderon. Should we be giving $$ to Mexico?

Social reconstruction… the maquiladoras boom, … We don’t know where that money is going really.

For JudithHow many foreign correspondents are there?

Torrea: I am the only foreign correspondent in Ciudad Juarez. I often go out alone… I am concerned about this, I know. But I don’t have another way. I can lose track of how many dead people there are every day. Justice has been suspended, too … Cases are not being resolved. The lawyers have been killed. 97% of cases in Mexico in general are not being resolved.
If you are poor people in Mexico, you don’t have rights. You don’t have justice. All of the women are poor women, and if you have this kind of system, of course the crime continues because there is not a way to stop. And the authorities don’t have any intention to do anything for these women.

Have your lives personally been threatened?

Only Torrea has been personally threatened, although Licon has received “very ugly phone calls.”

Licon: When I won a prize I was invited to speak about the situation. … After this it started to become a campaign against me, a column and I started to received threats on my cell phone.

Would legalizing drugs in the US make a difference?
Kocherga: No. the criminals would find another illegal activity to pursue.
Moderator Puente: Thank you for being so brave. I am proud that this also is an all-Latina panel.
Licon: There are things happening in every city in the US. So we can help by finding those stories. There has to be someone in charge of these groups in the US … who are the enemies in the United States.
Kocherga: the Law and order question in Mexico. Civil Society in Mexico is so critical.
Uribe: All of you might share the reason I go to Juarez: It’s for the people — the people who survive all this. They have no question but to come to the United States to save

Blogged by Elaine Vitt

More on this topic:

NPR Morning Edition’s piece by Monica Ortiz Uribe, who was on the JAWS panel on covering the border at the San Antonio Camp.
Tuesday: http://www.npr.org/2010/12/28/132370340/mexican-teens-in-different-worlds-share-tragic-fate
Wednesday: http://www.npr.org/2010/12/29/132408130/in-mexico-indiscriminate-violence-shatters-lives