Visitors to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Juárez place votive candles with the image of Virgen de Guadalupe, Mexico’s patron saint, on a platform below the pulpit. Juárez residents interviewed for this story say the Pope’s use of his position to promote social change resonates here. (Lorne Matalon)
JUAREZ, Chihuahua — The upcoming visit of Pope Francis to Mexico marks the sixth Latin American country Pope Francis will have visited since his pontificate began in 2013. Francis will be visiting the border city of Juárez, a city recreating itself after years of bloodshed. That’s something Francis witnessed as a young priest during Argentina’s “Dirty War.”
His experience in Latin America, being the first Latin American leader of the Catholic Church, his decision to echo some of the precepts of the movement founded in Latin America within the church founded in Latin America known as Liberation Theology and his decision to beatify a murdered Salvadoran archbishop are all elements in the Pope’s focus on Latin America.
A recently concluded trial in El Paso, Texas, has revealed the inner workings of how the Juarez Cartel used sophisticated communication technology to orchestrate murders, while United States law enforcement and intelligence operatives eavesdropped on calls between the killers. This came out while the prosecution was making its case against Arturo “Benny” Gallegos.
On Tuesday investigative reporter Jason McGahan was interviewed by Marfa Public Radio/West Texas Public Radio Fronteras Desk reporter Lorne Matalon about his work on this case.
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.
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.
Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz; “I’m not thinking about the threats. I think about what needs to be done in my city and I do it.”
Juarez, Mexico, a stone’s throw from El Paso, Texas represents an important business center for the United States, supplying dozens of U.S. companies with auto parts, electronics and other manufactured goods. But the city is under siege, a fact acknowledged by the Obama Administration, which is crafting contingency plans to send the National Guard to the border if conditions deteriorate further.
Homeland Security’s Operations Director told Congress last week that National Guard troops will be sent to the border only as a “last resort” to combat threats from Mexico’s drug cartels. The cartels have publicly targeted politicians and police from the federal to the local level.
Take Juárez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz. He now travels in an armed convoy whenever he leaves City Hall.
The border area between the United States and Mexico has become so violent that the State Department issued a travel alert last month. The warning says, “A war between criminal organizations for control of the lucrative narcotics trade continues along the border. Foreign visitors, including Americans, have been among the victims.” It’s one thing for visitors to avoid the border cities or at least to be alert to their surroundings. It’s another thing for the folks who live there. The World’s Lorne Matalon has our story.
Matalon: I’m walking across a pedestrian bridge from El Paso, Texas into Juárez, Mexico. The two cities are for all intents and purposes one entity with separate governments sharing the same problems. Right now the overriding problem is the influence of the Mexican drug cartels, principally here the Juárez Cartel which is involved in a horrific fight between it, the Juárez Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel.
Matalon: Juárez today is a sprawling cauldron of chaos and violence one of the cartels’ preferred routes to “el otro lad,o” the other side, the U.S. The Mexican Army arrived 3 weeks ago after the latest spike in murders included the execution of a police commander who refused to protect the Juárez Cartel. At the same time, the editor of the daily ‘Norte de Ciudad de Juárez’ has pulled his reporters from further cartel investigations after 2 reporters were killed and others threatened. Alfredo Quijano says his paper now only publishes gov’t reports of arrests and deaths.