Many people in the Paso del Norte border region are asking this question: Who and what were responsible for the September 22 massacre of 10 people in the rural Chihuahua town of Loma Blanca? Was the killing revenge meted out against members of a winning baseball team? Part of the ongoing dispute between organized criminal bands over control of a strategic border smuggling corridor directly across from Texas? A case of mistaken identity, similar to the massacre of young people at a party in the Ciudad Juarez neighborhood of Villas de Salvarcar back in 2010?
Such are the questions lingering from Sunday night’s mass slaying of 10 people, eight males and two females, who were attending a party celebrating the championship victory of the local Cardinals baseball team. The party-goers were toasting the first-ever championship win of the Cardinals in the local league when at least two gunmen burst onto the premises firing assault weapons. A six-year-old girl identified as Perla Michel Mancha Davila was among the homicide victims.
“That damn little trophy is the only thing that’s left,” said Angelica Frayre Alarcon, sister of another victim, 15-year-old Luis Alonso Frayre Alarcon. “We don’t know why it happened. There was a little girl, some students, good people of the town.”
Of the Loma Blanca victims, four were under 18 years of age.
The Sunday night massacre occurred in a small town situated about 20 miles southeast of Ciudad Juarez in the Juarez Valley, an area which suffered a disproportionate share of murders and other crimes during the great convulsion of violence that gripped both the big city and its rural outskirts between 2008 and 2012.
In recent months, Mexican government officials and business leaders have played up the sharp reductions in killings since last year, contending the security climate has greatly improved and the region is ripe for reinvestment and recovery.
For instance, Juarez-El Paso Now, the trade journal of the local maquiladora industry association, ran statistics in its latest issue that showed the number of homicides in Ciudad Juarez had dropped to 31 per 100,000 inhabitants from June 2012 to June 2013. According to the publication, the homicide rate ranked Ciudad Juarez “safer” than Detroit, New Orlenas, St. Louis, Baltimore, Birmingham, Newark, and Oakland, cities where the comparable murder rates ranged from 33 murders per 100,000 residents (Oakland) to 54 per 100,000 (Detroit).
Auto thefts, too, have plunged dramatically, according to Juarez-El Paso Now.
“Ideally, if we could have sustained a level of 20 or less homicides per 100k citizens and 30 or less auto thefts with violence per month, that would position Ciudad Juarez as one of the safest international land ports in the world,” the trade journal editorialized. “We are not far from those numbers. Let’s hope that this resilient city can get back to its booming times of investment and employment. There are certainly glimpses of hope now.”
But the Loma Blanca massacre, coming on the heels of a recent spate of violent attacks against municipal police officers as well as other murders like the September 23 discovery of the bodies of two tortured and murdered men tossed in the desert on the edge of Ciudad Juarez, has residents questioning whether another violent upsurge is in the works. Juarez criminologist Oscar Maynez Grijalva said the state has “lax control” over public safety, whether it pertains to “organized crime, personal vengeance or any other motive.”
The latest violence occurs amid a transition of municipal political power from the outgoing administration of Hector “Teto” Murguia to incoming mayor Enrique Serrano, who assumes office next month.
On Tuesday, September 24, so-called narco-messages appeared on walls in the Juarez Valley towns of San Agustin and San Isidro, implying more violence in the wake of Loma Blanca.
Jorge Gonzalez, Chihuahua state prosecutor, declared that a federal-state-municipal security operation was underway to find the Loma Blanca killers. Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte assured that authorities were working in a “special way” to get to the bottom of the massacre.
The Loma Blanca gunmen were last reported fleeing in a truck in the direction of Ciudad Juarez.
Sources: El Diario de El Paso, September 24, 2013. Articles by Luz del Carmen Sosa and editorial staff. Lapolaka.com, September 24, 2013. Nortedigital.com.mx, September 24, 2013. Articles by Miguel Vargas and editorial staff. Proceso/Apro, September 24, 2013. Article by Patricia Mayorga. Arrobjuarez.com, September 24, 2013. Juarez-El Paso Now, September 2013.
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Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
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