Monday, April 5, 2010

The Beat: Deadline Passes in Valle de Juarez: About Half the Valley Has Fled. Church Set on Fire

Easter Sunday was the deadline given by narco-gangs to the inhabitants of Valle de Juarez. The Valle is something like the area South of Albuquerque down to Belen, or the South Mesilla Valley, small farms and an occasional community. Most of the Valle de Juarez lies within the municipality of Praxedis G. Gerrerro, composed of twelve communities. The largest are Praxedis, which had about 3500 inhabitants, El Porvenir, which had about 2800, and Colonia Esperanza, with about 1200. Guadalupe Bravo is slightly smaller. Ft. Hancock is a small community on the U.S. side right on the other side of El Porvenir.

Signs made out of cardboard have been left in prominent places warning villagers they must leave or be subject to execution or to have their home burned down. In recent weeks violence has spread throughout the South Valley all the way down to El Porvenir, with numerous assassinations, house-burnings, threats, and shoot-em-ups by gang members. On Friday night (Good Friday) gang members set fire to a Catholic Church in El Porvenir, as though to warn villagers to leave. Local parishioners put the fire out. On Saturday two young men were murdered as they attended a funeral in San Agustin.

In a story this morning in Diario reporters Francisco Alarcón and Araly Castañón estimate that about half of the inhabitants the Valley have fled to Ft. Hancock, across the river, or to Juárez. Some villagers without legal papers for the U.S. have opted to stay in spite of the threats, fearing deportation or a long stay in a detention center if they ask for asylum in the U.S. Yesterday, according to the story, the streets of El Porvenir were abandoned except for a lonely ice cream vendor.

Praxedis G. Guerrero, also in the Valle, is about 30 miles downstream. In recent months police officers have been killed, multiple homicides have traumatized the local population, and few people venture out at night.

On Thursday federal police spread throughout the Valle to offer protection. In Praxedis they headquartered in a social club behind the municipal building. Caravan-style patrols wander through the streets of communities and roads in-between and a helicopter has been assigned to fly over the valley. Roadblocks have been set up to check vehicle identities.

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