Juarez Hero Chronicles and #mariselaescobedo
This week the annual murder count in Ciudad Juárez surpassed 3,000 — roughly the same number of victims that died in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City. That’s nearly ten homicides per day in a city of around 1.3 million, by far the bloodiest year yet since President Felipe Calderon launched an aggressive offensive against drug cartels in 2006. While thousands of residents have fled, the vast majority stay. Surely the booming maquila industry is one incentive, but Juárez residents are also quick to defend their community and point to the everyday acts of heroism and goodwill that tend go unreported in the press.
Crónicas de Héroes Juárez is a project of MIT’s Center for Future Civic Media with participation from local NGOs that is modeled on Hero Reports New York, a website that was set up after 9/11 to highlight the good deeds and acts of heroism by ordinary New Yorkers. By amplifying acts of courage and good will the original site aimed to remind New Yorkers to not give up hope and to focus on positive actions in the face of overwhelming destruction. The same is true today in Ciudad Juárez along the Mexican-American border.
One user recalls that (s)he left alaptop in the waiting hall of the airport and didn’t realize until three hours later. An anonymous passerby found the laptop and delivered it to the airport authorities. “Thank you to all the honest people in this city,” the report reads. Several other reports celebrate residents who take care of their elderly neighbors without any re-compensation or recognition. On Calamar street in the “Safari” neighborhood an elderly man gives food and essentials to a single mother and her children. One witness recalls that when Hurricane Karl wreaked havoc on Vera Cruz in September residents of Juarez collected canned goods and other articles for the victims.
There is no shortage of brief, inspiring stories. But will this change the media’s coverage of Ciudad Juarez? Probably not. Nor is that necessarily the project’s objective. “Even though our environs have become terrorizing,” the about page reads, “our vision and our words can create a climate of humanity.” Here is a small corner of the web where residents of Juarez can share their humanity with each other, and leave a record for future generations trying to come to terms with what took place.
Still, we should be realistic about the limits of such a project. Last night – like most nights – another Juárez resident was shot in the head at close range by masked men who were not apprehended. This time it was 52-year-old Marisela Escobedo who was collecting signatures outside of the state governor’s office in Chihuahua city.
As you can see in the video, when Marisela Escobedo is gunned down in front of passing traffic there are no heros who get out of their car to help her, even long after the gunmen flee.
In 2008 Mrs. Escobedo’s 16-year-old daughter, Rubi, was found burned and dismembered in a trash can in Juárez. She had been missing for a year. Rubi’s live-in boyfriend, Sergio Barraza, was accused of her murder. In fact, Barraza confessed to the murder in front of prosecutors and then led them to her body. But in court he maintained his innocence and claimed that he was tortured into confessing. A panel of three judges – all suspended as of today – released Barraza for lack of material evidence.
Barraza is now the prime suspect in the murder of Rubi’s mother, Marisela Escobedo. On YouTube there is a thorough record of Mrs. Escobedo’s long and lonely fight to find justice for the murder of her daughter. She organized marches, collected signatures, harassed politicians, all to no avail. According to the Associated Press:
Three days ago, Escobedo planted herself in front of the offices of Gov. Cesar Duarte and vowed not to move until investigators showed progress in the case. In an interview with the newspaper El Diario on Sunday, Escobedo said she had received death threats from Barraza’s family.
Duarte said state security officials had been assigned to protect Escobedo, although from a distance. He said their failure to protect Escobedo on Thursday would be investigated.
Barraza’s release and Marisela Escobedo’s murder are both representative of Mexico’s struggle to reform it’s broken justice system, which we’ve covered here before. Mexico is in the midst of an ambitious series of reforms that touch on every aspect of the judicial sector and are to be fully implemented throughout the country by 2016. Chihuahua State was, in fact, one of the first to adopt many of the reforms – including oral arguments and the presumption of innocence, which places the burden of proof on prosecutors. While judges and lawyers have received training to better understand the reforms, most police have not, which results in material evidence that is discarded in court.
The citizens of Juárez should be proud to remember the acts of courage and heroism that take place every day in their city. But they must also remember Marisela Escobedo, not just as a victim of a war between soldiers, gangs, and governments, but as a victim of a broken judicial system that can and must be improved.