Category Archives: Photography

Borderland Exodus: Towns Near Path Of Proposed Mexican Pipelines Suffer Rash Of Violence

A burned home in Guadalupe, Chihuahua. Many homes and businesses here and elsewhere in Juárez Valley towns that lie in the path of proposed infrastructure development have been targets of arson. (Lorne Matalon)

A burned home in Guadalupe, Chihuahua. Many homes and businesses here and elsewhere in Juárez Valley towns that lie in the path of proposed infrastructure development have been targets of arson. (Lorne Matalon)

GUADALUPE, Chihuahua, Mexico — People living in the Juárez Valley southeast of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, Texas, allege that land speculators preparing for the start of oil and gas production have spurred a land grab that has forced what some claim is an exodus of local residents.

People interviewed for this story claim they or neighbors have been burned out of their homes and that others have been murdered. They live in a string of towns along the Rio Grande in an area slated for energy production and rapid infrastructure construction.

One of those towns is Guadalupe, a few minutes from the United States border across from Fabens, Texas, but a world away in terms of security. Construction on a superhighway and a state-of-the-art international border crossing is underway here.

According to Mexican census rolls nearly 10,000 people lived here in 2005. The mayor — who declined to be interviewed — claimed in local media that this year only about 1,000 people remain.

One man, who like others asked not be identified for fear of retribution, explained what has happened.

“The government sends people here to pressure landowners to get out of here, to say, ‘go away, we don’t want you here,’ ” he said in Spanish. The charge is vehemently denied by Chihuahua’s government.

The man said wealthy buyers then show up to grab the vacant land.

Analysts suggest buyers are arriving because Mexico’s state-owned oil company PEMEX is exploring for oil and gas in northern Chihuahua. The region shares geological characteristics of the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico, the highest-producing oil field in the United States.

“Obviously this land is being re-consolidated in the hands of a few,” said Tony Payan, Director of Rice University’s Mexico Center in Houston.

“Many of these politicians will have interests in the shale development in the future and will likely get ahold of that land no matter what.”

With oil and gas development and plans for pipelines, desert land no one cared about is now valuable. Chihuahua’s Secretary of Public Works told a Juárez newspaper in September that he won’t reveal the exact routes for new roads because the government doesn’t want to fuel land speculation.

I asked another person about that. He laughed derisively.

“It’s always about power and money,” he said in Spanish.

He alleged that bureaucrats and politicians are now in the real estate business, acting at the very least as a middleman to sell land to investors.

“They are using, it is quite clear to me, that information for themselves in a way that they can position themselves as a political class to profit from this industry in the future, oil, gas and the pipelines themselves,” Payan said.

Back in Guadalupe, physical evidence suggests that someone doesn’t want people here: burned houses, shattered glass and very few people on the street.

The narrative in Mexican media is that the violence is a consequence of turf wars between cartels. But some residents are skeptical. They sense, but can’t prove, that outside investors are working with organized crime to terrorize people into fleeing, leaving their land to be scooped up. The state can legally seize land and homes for unpaid property taxes.

Residents said repeatedly that no economic activity, legal or otherwise, takes place without the government knowledge and tacit sanction.

“The valley is a lawless place,” another man said in Spanish. “It’s the sad truth.”

Mexican authorities cited in media reports say at least 300 people have been killed in Guadalupe since 2008 — mayors, police, city councilors, business owners and human rights activists. People are learning hard lessons about real estate.

Julián Cardona is a photographer from Juárez. He was the photographer on a story about the Juárez Valley with Mexican journalist Ignacio Alvarado Álvarez published by Al Jazeera America.       

“You know the rule. Location, location, location,” Cardona said.

He’s watched a slow-motion depopulation unfold here. He said residents tell him that authorities do nothing.

“Every time there was a killing, every time there was a burning house, the soldiers were a block away,” Cardona said. “They didn’t stop the killers or the people burning the houses.”

Pipeline companies in Texas are historically granted the right of eminent domain, to seize private land because the transport of energy is deemed to be in the public’s interest.

“In the United States, it’s a lawful eminent domain. In Mexico it’s outright violence,” said El Paso lawyer Carlos Spector. He represents 250 former residents of the Juárez Valley, many from Guadalupe, now seeking asylum in the U.S.

“Investors are getting very aggressive,” said Spector, founder of Mexicanos En Exilio, or Mexicans in Exile.

“All they have to do is get a list from the mayor of a small town, who is under their control, as to who hasn’t paid the taxes. And if they can match up who hasn’t paid the taxes to where the gas and the freeway is coming, then you go after that property. It’s very, very scientific.”

People who remain in Guadalupe say that former neighbors who have fled are anxious to sell their now-abandoned land for cents on the dollar because they’re too frightened to even contemplate coming back.

Martín Huéramo is one of 250 former residents of the Mexican border town of Guadalupe, now seeking asylum in the United States.

“I received several threats, not just one,” he said in Spanish.

Huéramo was a city councilor in Guadalupe in 2010. He had opposed the mayor’s resolution that would allow the local government to expropriate land to sell to energy speculators.

The week after he entered the United States, two women on the city council were killed. They had opposed the same resolution. This was confirmed by two independent sources.

The year before, two of his brothers-in-law were murdered.

“Families in the Juárez Valley have lost loved ones,” he said. “It’s a message saying they have to leave the Juárez Valley.

Residents say violence rose in the Juárez Valley in 2010 after the murder of Josefina Reyes Salazar, killed on the outskirts Ciudad Juárez.

She had led the Mexican side of a successful binational campaign to stop a nuclear waste dump in Sierra Blanca, Texas, just across from Guadalupe. And she had spoken out about land displacement in the Juárez Valley.

An art gallery administrator from Ciudad Juárez, Gabriela Carballo, compares opposition to pipelines in Guadalupe to conflict in the U.S. over the proposed Trans Pecos Pipeline. It would ferry natural gas from Texas into Mexico.

There is intense opposition on the part of some Texas landowners and ranchers.

“As a Mexican I can say that we care as much about the environment as any one of these people that are fighting the Trans Pecos Pipeline,” said Carballo.

As for alleged land displacement in the name of energy in Chihuahua, she said it’s not easy to take a stand under the actual or perceived threat of retribution.

“If we speak out against it, we run the risk of our really extremely corrupt government murdering us,” she said.

There’s no way to verify such a claim. And Mexican officials are quick to refute them.

“Violence is minimal right now and no one’s been affected by plans for pipelines,’ said Arturo Llamas in Spanish. He’s Chihuahua’s pipeline and energy infrastructure regulator.

Llamas is also the state’s liaison with Mexico’s federal energy agencies. He said energy development in northern Chihuahua is a boon to local residents that will ultimately translate into lower electricity and gasoline costs.

“It will help the entire country, not just Chihuahua,” he said. He was emphatic that he and his staff are watching the Juárez Valley.

“It’s our responsibility to be sure that laws are obeyed and that everything that must be done is done properly,” he said. He also said he wanted anyone with a complaint to contact his office in Chihuahua City.

But few people alleging harm are likely to approach a government they don’t trust.

There are others beyond the alleged victims, who bear witness to a different reality. Mexican photographer Julián Cardona has catalogued the destruction of peoples lives in the Juárez Valley.

“I think they’re now realizing the value of their land, because now there are people buying their lands,” said Cardona. “Violence is linked to displacement of their families.”

He recalled a visit June 24, 2015, when Chihuahua Gov. César Duarte made a brief stop in Guadalupe.

“The governor visited in Guadalupe and the mayor ordered the empty buildings and house along the main avenue painted in bright colors — glowing yellow, green, blue, pink. The fact the houses were painted in bright colors is like a smokescreen of what’s really going on,” Cardona said.

As for Martin Huéramo — the former Guadalupe city councilor seeking asylum — he says he would have no issue with energy production or pipelines if they did not involve, in his words, people being forced out. He doesn’t believe government claims that laws are being followed and things are being done properly.

Then unexpectedly, he said he believes one of the government’s claims.

“The government says violence is down in the Juárez Valley,” he said in Spanish.

“I believe it,” he continued, “because there are no more people left to kill.”

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Pictures of El Salvador

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Maria Isabel Delario, bent and crying, prays at the tomb of Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez at Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador. (Lorne Matalon)

 

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Harvard Revista: Building a Template for Sustainable Forestry

Revista is published by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard. Fall 2014 is devoted to Peru and includes the photo essay, Building a Template for Sustainable Forestry: Hope in a Landscape of Corruption.

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Jairo Huarash and Armando Espinosa stand on their raft of cut logs or boya. They lived on the raft for three days transporting their wood to a mill. Rio Ucayali, Atalaya Province.

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BBC World Service Interview: Riding La Bestia

bbc_world_service_logo Many Central American migrants looking to cross into the United States transit Mexico on a network of cargo trains collectively known as La Bestia, which means “the beats” in Spanish. The migrants choose this option over walking overland but La Bestia is a risky trip too. Marauding gangs extract extortion fees, woman are routinely abused and raped and many people have been tossed from the train for refusing to comply with demands, losing limbs or their life.

Shadows move across the tracks as La Bestia, a cargo train known as The Beast, approaches from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas into the state of Veracruz.(Lorne Matalon)

Shadows move across the tracks as La Bestia, a cargo train known as The Beast, approaches from the southern Mexican state of Chiapas into the state of Veracruz. (Lorne Matalon)

BBC World Service anchor Julian Worricker interviewed Lorne Matalon live from London about Matalon’s experience reporting on La Bestia. You can also find Matalon’s photographs from his coverage here.

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Making Deals With Informants: US Visas And The Juárez War

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In this Fronteras Desk web exclusive, Lorne Matalon speaks with Jason McGahan, the author of a report for The Daily Beast news site entitled, “U.S. Visas Helped Fuel The Juárez Drug Wars.”

Matalon also speaks with College of William & Mary Professor George Grayson, the co-author with Sam Logan of “The Executioner’s Men: Los Zetas, Rogue Soldiers, Criminal Entrepreneurs and the Shadow State They Created.”

A Mexican Federal Police officer stands guard in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Juárez. Residents said some of their neighbors had left when the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels fought during some of the worst years of the violence. March 15, 2009 (Lorne Matalon)

A Mexican Federal Police officer stands guard in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Juárez. Residents said some of their neighbors had left when the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels fought during some of the worst years of the violence. March 15, 2009 (Lorne Matalon)

Grayson has chronicled other examples of U.S. authorities paying informants inside the Mexican underworld.

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Story originally published at The United States Department of Agriculture has rescinded a 2012 ban on inspectors working at what was until two years ago the largest single point of entry for Mexican cattle into the United States. The lifting of the … Continue reading

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Drug Smuggling Twist: Innocent Mexicans Allegedly Duped By Mennonite Suspect

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CHIHUAHUA, Mexico —Federal prosecutors in Texas and New Mexico are dealing with a series of unusual cases.

Ten drug smuggling crimes have been traced to a man from a Mennonite community in Mexico who is alleged to have duped the victims.

A Mennonite man drives a horse and buggy near Ciudad Cuauhtémoc.

A Mennonite man drives a horse and buggy near Ciudad Cuauhtémoc.

The seduction starts with a classified ad in the paper, one that a 23-year-old named Juan was drawn to. He asks that his last name not be revealed; he’s frightened there may be retribution if the man who placed the ad — identified by U.S. attorneys and the victims as David Giesprecht Fehr — finds him.

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Harvard Revista: The Challenge of Inequality

Revista is published by the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard. Spring 2013 is devoted to Panama and includes the photo essay, The Challenge of Inequality.

Southern Darién Province, an emerald maze of rainforest and a crucible of indigenous life, personifies inequality in wealth in modern Panamá. “We’re alone here,” says Grimaldo Contrera, a 40-year-old cacique with jet-black hair and weathered hands that testify to life in rugged Darién.

“The state pledged to help us rebuild our schoolhouse. Nothing has come here but words,” he says showing a visitor his correspondence with authorities. The school has only one shabby room for fifteen children. In 2008, one student in the village was awarded a university scholarship. Contrera says Panamá has money to spend. He says he knows so from listening to the drumbeat of upbeat business stories on radio stations broadcasting from the capital.

Contrera family children swimming ; their family wants to educate them in a better schoolhouse. (Lorne Matalon)

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Mexican President Peña Nieto Pushes Border Trade

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While the United States celebrated Thanksgiving, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto spent the day in a border town so small no Mexican president had ever gone there.

Peña Nieto has already made history by distancing himself from previous Mexican presidents.

Enrique Peña Nieto visited Ojinaga, Chihuahua and sent two messages simultaneously, one for domestic consumption, the other to Washington.

Enrique Peña Nieto visited Ojinaga, Chihuahua and sent two messages simultaneously, one for domestic consumption, the other to Washington.

He wants foreign investment in the state-owned oil industry, an unthinkable act in the eyes of Mexican nationalists.

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Riding La Bestia, The Immigration Train

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Story originally published at EDITOR’S NOTE: Mexico has repeatedly accused the United States of mistreating Mexican immigrants — legal or otherwise. But immigration experts in Mexico say that accusation is hypocritical. They charge the treatment of Central American immigrants entering … Continue reading

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Photo Gallery: Re-Opening The Border At Boquillas

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Story originally published at An unmanned border station in West Texas has opened almost 11 years after the border was sealed following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The border station is remotely operated, meaning citizens entering the U.S. will … Continue reading

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Building A Tourism Cooperative In Northern Mexico

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This live-to-tape interview broadcast from Boquillas, Coahuila, Mexico looks at the challenges faced by outsiders who say they are here—funded by tax money of the US, Canada & Mexico—to improve life in the village.

In April, we reported on a formal border crossing re-opening in West Texas. For years, thousands of tourists flocked to the tiny village of Boquillas Mexico, propping up their local economy.

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Workers gather straw and foliage beside a casita under renovation. The United States looms in the background across the Rio Grande. (Lorne Matalon)

Then, Sept. 11, 2001 happened. The border was unmanned, and in the name of national security it was sealed. The closed border was a crippling blow to Boquillas’ economy.

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Long Awaited Border Crossing with Mexico Opens

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On this program, we catch up with Ernesto Hernandez of the Washington DC based Solimar International. That company was awarded a $100,000 contract last year to help Boquillas Mexico prepare for the border reopening. Hernandez discusses the challenge faced by outsiders who are trying to establish a community-owned tourism cooperative.

Candelario Valdez tends bar, Boquillas, Mexico (Photo: Lorne Matalon).

Candelario Valdez tends bar, Boquillas, Mexico. (Lorne Matalon)

On this program, we catch up with Ernesto Hernandez of the Washington DC based Solimar International. That company was awarded a $100,000 contract last year to help Boquillas Mexico prepare for the border reopening. Hernandez discusses the challenge faced by outsiders who are trying to establish a community-owned tourism cooperative.

Hear the effect outsiders coming is having on Boquillas and learn how Solimar views the villagers it is trying to help.

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Mexico’s Drug War Comes To Guatemala

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Carlos Morales

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Carlos Morales sits under a picture of Che Guevara in Santa Cruz, Alta Verapaz. Morales heads the Union of Peasant Organizations. He believes the state of siege is a pretext for suppressing agrarian reform in a region with a history of land disputes.

Mexican drug traffickers have worked their way south into Guatemala. The Guatemalan army has been trying to beat them back. But some Guatemalans are expressing loyalty to the drug cartels which have provided services – schools, roads, clinics, even security – that the Guatemalan government hasn’t delivered.

Mexico’s war against the drug cartels is spilling south into Guatemala. The cartels are threatening to take over parts of northern Guatemala near the Mexican border.

In response, the Guatemalan government has taken a page from its larger neighbor — and deployed the army to try and push the traffickers out. The government has declared a “state of siege” in one province, called Alta Verapaz, that it said has been overrun by one of Mexico’s most feared cartels.

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US Visa Restrictions Eased For Cuban Artists

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“Amigos, guajiros y borrachos” (Friends, farmers & drunkards) 2010 Oil & acrylic on canvas, 47” x 39"

The Obama administration is easing restrictions on visas issued to Cuban artists who refuse to defect or renounce their loyalty to the Cuban Revolution. The World’s Lorne Matalon profiles two artists who’ve come to the US from Cuba because of this opening.

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Colorado River Water Rights

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Under a longstanding treaty, the Colorado River irrigates 3 million acres of farmland and supplies water to 30 million people in the United States and Mexico. Between population growth and a decade long drought, the Colorado is under such stress that Western states – desperate to maintain water supplies – want to purify agricultural runoff currently diverted into Mexico. But as The World’s Lorne Matalon reports, Mexico covets that water, because it has given birth to a productive wetland.

Columns of moist air hover above still water in the Cienega de Santa Clara, mirroring the desert sky. The wetland is an oasis in dry northern Mexico, a haven for birds and fish, some endangered.

(Lorne Matalon)

“The Cienega is the most important wetland in the Colorado River delta.”

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Rio Santa Cruz: Saving A River Along The US-Mexico Border

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Flying over the village of San Lazaro, Sonora, Mexico

Just south of the US border, the Santa Cruz River is a dust bowl, a scarred ditch tapped dry by the booming twin cities of Nogales, Mexico and Nogales, Arizona. Not long ago, people waded in and held baptisms in the river. Today it looks like fire has destroyed the riverbed and the trees beside it. But it’s a very different story a couple of hours farther into Mexico. Lorne Matalon has the story.

San Lazaro, Mexico – population 600 – it’s on the floor of a remote valley crisscrossed by warrens of paths carved into the boundless Sonoran desert. It’s where the Santa Cruz starts wending its way north toward the U-S. And it’s where 20-year-old Arturo Alvarez leads a group of young people working on a restoration team. ‘We’re watching bird migration patterns,’ Alvarez says. The group is known as Los Halcones– the Hawks-and it’s also monitoring the river’s temperature, and the health of the vegetation lining its banks.

(Lorne Matalon)

Less than a decade ago, little took root here. The protective underbrush and cottonwood and mesquite saplings had been trampled by cattle and horses. But Los Halcones have fenced off two miles of the river and saplings are now abundant.

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Mexican Mennonites

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People get around by horse-drawn wagon at the Mennonite village of El Sabinal, Chihuahua, Mexico.

The northern Mexican state of Chihuahua is one of Mexico’s most violent. Rising drug-related crime has taken a heavy toll on the state – just south of the border from New Mexico and Texas. But amidst the violence, a pacifist community thrives. Mennonites have been living in Chihuahua for decades. They’re considered a part of the state’s tapestry now – famous around Mexico for their cheese and other farm products. The World’s Lorne Matalon traveled there to meet some of Chihuahua’s Mennonites.

Matalon: The village of El Sabinal in the remote Chihuahuan desert of northern Mexico looks like something out of another era. The houses are simple one-floor structures, vintage hand-made farm tools are still in use – and most people here get around in horse-drawn carriages.

(Lorne Matalon)

Matalon: El Sabinal is an orthodox Mennonite community – meaning its 600 people generally avoid modern contraptions like cars, electricity, modern music, and telephones. They also speak a German dialect to communicate with each other. But when it comes to speaking with outsiders — Spanish is the language of choice.

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Drug Cartels Still In Action

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Mexico’s violent drug cartels didn’t simply pack up and go home when the H1N1flu arrived. In fact, they’re just as active as before. The World’s Lorne Matalon reports that the government has once again stepped up its attempts to beat back the cartels.

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Audio Slideshow: Saint Of Death

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Mexico is experiencing a horrifying wave of violence. So it’s not surprising that the religious cult, Santa Muerte – or the Saint of Death – has gained a following. Narration and all photos by Lorne Matalon.

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