A daughter is found dismembered. Her mother is shot dead trying to bring the killer to justice. Two days later, a brother-in-law’s body is dumped on the street after his lumber business is torched.
No one is under arrest for any of the crimes, and there is little hope the cases will be solved. The tragedies befalling an extended family in Ciudad Juarez lay bare the lawlessness that plagues not only Mexico’s most violent city, but the entire country.
The case of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, slain last week as she demanded justice for her dead daughter outside the Chihuahua state governor’s office, has gripped the country. Mexican President Felipe Calderon, kidnap victim Diego Fernandez de Cevallos and even the Sinaloa drug cartel have all weighed in; Fernandez de Cevallos spoke about Escobedo just hours after he was released by his captors on Monday from his own seven-month ordeal.
“On the one hand, I’m very happy to be reunited with my loved ones, my family,” the wealthy power broker said in a radio interview. “At the same time, I feel enormous pain to hear of the disgraces being done in this country, like the poor woman who was assassinated in Chihuahua.”
The Sinaloa cartel, waging a deadly battle with the rival Juarez cartel for control of the city, hung two banners early on Tuesday claiming solidarity with Escobedo’s family and offering to find her killer.
Escobedo’s daughter, Rubi Frayre Escobedo, was killed in 2008 allegedly by her live-in boyfriend, Sergio Barraza, who was arrested then later released for lack of evidence.
Escobedo’s death last week was captured on a surveillance video that showed a masked man shooting her point-blank in the head as she tried to flee — even though state security officials had been assigned to protect her.
Two days later, the body of Manuel Monge Amparan, 36, was found asphyxiated and wrapped in a blanket after his family business, Lumber and Materials Monge, was apparently deliberately set on fire, prosecutors said. Monge was the brother of Escobedo’s partner, Jose Monge.
The killings don’t seem to be directly related. The daughter may have been killed out of jealousy, the mother out of revenge and neighboring business owners have speculated that Monge was a victim of extortion, a crime that has devastated Juarez’s small-business sector, causing 40 percent of businesses to close in some commercial districts. Drug traffickers and other gangs charge businesses a “protection fee” to operate, often kidnapping owners or torching property if they don’t pay.
What they have in common is that none of the killers has yet been brought to justice.
Escobedo’s attorney, Lucha Castro, says remaining members of the family have fled the country in fear of their lives.
“Marisela’s family is not an isolated case ... It’s the situation we’re living in Juarez,” Castro said. “Families have had to leave Juarez, just like Marisela’s family, because of the threats, extortion, killings ... and disappearances that have made the state of Chihuahua a total failure.”
Chihuahua Attorney General Carlos Manuel Salas, who took office in October, said the three cases are regrettable, but justice is improving. He noted that a state court handed down Mexico’s first life sentence for a kidnapper late on Monday.
“This is a radical change in the administration of justice for the state,” Salas said on Tuesday, calling Escobedo a remarkable example of courage. “We have to be more careful with our investigations and procedures so there is no more impunity.”
However, lawlessness continues as both Mexico’s efforts to reform its justice system and Calderon’s cleanup plan for police have fallen short.
Less than 5 percent of crimes in Juarez are even investigated, according to local civic leaders working on a security round table.
Records show that last year, when 2,600 people were killed in Ciudad Juarez, prosecutors filed 93 homicide cases and got 19 convictions. This year the number of homicides has exceeded 3,000.
Chihuahua, the northern state where Ciudad Juarez is located, was among the first to adopt Mexico’s judicial reform, moving from closed, written proceedings to oral trials and a system that puts the burden of proof on prosecutors.
However, it was in Chihuahua that three state judges ordered the freeing of Barraza, who confessed to the killing and led police to Frayre’s burned and dismembered body. During the trial, he proclaimed his innocence and claimed he had been tortured into confessing. One of the judges ruled in April that prosecutors failed to present material evidence against him.
He’s now the chief suspect in Escobedo’s slaying as well.
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