Fr. Al Utzig and I went to the local premier of a documentary in downtown El Paso, Texas, that relates the history of the wave of violence that is sweeping over Juárez, México since 2006. The film’s title, “Eight Murders a Day,” refers to the rate of assassinations that took place, on average, during 2010.
The filmmaker, Charlie Minn, answered questions along with five other panel members, invited from the local university and human rights groups, on the stage of the Plaza Theater, about the film and about the analyses of those interviewed, some of which differed from each other when explaining the multiple causes of the violence. “The devil really is in the details,” one professor warned, encouraging the full house of spectators not to make generalizations about, for instance, the military forces of Mexico, which have occupied the city.
Little did Fr. Al and I know that, a few days later, we would meet the son of one of the victims featured in the film, and have the opportunity to support his efforts to have both his sister’s and his mother’s murders investigated, with the perpetrators identified and brought to justice.
Mrs. Marisela Escobedo planned to spend a long time in front of the local governor’s offices, camped out day and night, demanding that the sentence for the murderer of her daughter, Rubí, be carried out. Rubí was 16 years old when she was murdered in 2008, and her mother had organized many marches and protests in Juárez to demand justice. The main suspect in her killing had moved to another part of the country and joined the drug gang Zetas before he could be arrested to begin his sentence. The mother’s arrival at the state capital of Chihuahua on December 8th, 2010, drew a great deal of media attention—despite the threats that journalists in Mexico often receive for covering such events, uncomfortable for the powerful.
On the evening of December 16th, 2010, a group of men arrived at the main square in Chihuahua, and approached Marisela, chasing her down when she tried to take refuge in a nearby building. The videotape of the incident, caught by security cameras of the governor’s palace, shows a man catching up to her and shooting her in the head. The images are one of the most dramatic in the documentary that Fr. Al and I saw. The remaining members of the family received asylum in the United States soon afterwards, since it was evident that even on the steps of the Chihuahua state capitol they were not safe.
Now her son has taken up the cause, to investigate his mother’s death as well as to insist on completion of sentencing for his sister’s killer. He carried his sign, which had a picture of his sister on one side, and of his mother on the other, in front of the Mexican consulate in El Paso. Fr. Al, Fr. Dennis O’Mara, and I, together with Columban lay missioners Ariel Presbitero and Sainiana Tamatawale, joined about a dozen other local religious and social justice group members as Juan Manuel held a press conference in front of the building. He would spend every day, during the hours when the consulate was open, quietly walking up and down in front of the consulate with his sign. He also delivered a letter to the consul, which was formally received. Many of us decided to organize a schedule to accompany him during the week, since it might still be dangerous for him.
“No one has been detained so far” in the case of his mother’s murder, Juan Manuel told the group, “and there are no lines of investigation, which shows the complete indifference and silence of authorities in Chihuahua. In Rubi’s case, the case has been solved and the killer has been sentenced to 50 years in prison, but no one wants to capture him.”
Fr. Bill Morton joined Juan Manuel at his daily protest a few days later. Mission work means accompanying those called blessed, who hunger and thirst for justice, as Jesus tells us (Mt 5:6). We here at the borderlands community of El Paso and Juárez feel the privilege of knowing people like Juan Manuel, and the inspiration of his example of persistence and courage. Such people remind us of how near God is even to those in dire situations, challenging us to stand by them and waiting for our response.
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