Tuesday 13 December 2011

Ciudad Juarez is getting safer – unless you’re protecting the wife of the Mexican ambassador to Canada

Violence has been decreasing in Mexico’s murder capital, Ciudad Juarez, but on December 13th bodyguards working for Francisco Barrio Terrazas, the current Mexican ambassador to Canada, were involved in a shoot out with gunmen.

The incident occurred only a few meters from a military barracks on the busy Triunfo de la Republica avenue. Consequently, there was a significant response on the part of various enforcement agencies, including the military.

Minutes before the shootout, gangsters killed a man eating at a tortilleria (an informal street restaurant) across the street from a Christian community centre.

The dead man has been officially identified as Jose Landeros, of about 35 years of age, who went by the nickname “Lefty”. He was a regular at the tortilleria. It appears to have been a pre-planned hit, with the victim having been shot in the head and the lower back as he ate. At the scene were twelve spent AK-47 shells.

That part may have been planned, but what followed wasn’t. During their escape the gunmen ran into the Barrio family’s bodyguards, and that’s when all hell broke loose.

According to a report from the Cuidad Juarez newspaper El Mexicano, the attackers were out in force, and left the scene of the hit at the tortilleria in numerous vehicles, including an orange Dodge Neon and Ford F-150. The vehicles were without license plates.

In their eagerness to escape, the hitmen came out of an alley and crashed into a Chevrolet Trail Blazer driven by the security guards for the ambassador’s wife, HortenseTencha” Barrio. Early reports stated that she had been injured, but it has since been confirmed that she was not with her bodyguards at the time.

The guards believed the attack was directed against them, and began shooting. They were then surprised by the left side by another armed group, which opened fire, wounding both body guards. The bodyguards are being held for questioning, but it would seem they may be guilty only of trying to defend themselves.  

Other reports have claimed that the attack on the restaurant was more chaotic, with the hitmen opening fire to terrorize the guests, not only killing Jose Landeros, but also wounding four others, one seriously. According to this version of events, the bodyguards were in the restaurant, and the later gunfight was the result of chase following their escape. 

In January 2009, Barrio Terrazas – a former mayor of Juarez, and former governor of Chihuahua was named as the Mexican ambassador to Canada. This was a controversial move, as the well-connected PAN politician had suggested when governor that the rash of killings of young women in Ciudad Juarez was nothing out of the ordinary. He even went so far as to suggest that the victims shared some of the blame for dressing provocatively and walking alone at night.

This slackness was shown by his reluctance to launch an official investigation into the murders – which stand at around 400, but could reach into the thousands – until the final year of his time in office, in 1998. He then reportedly told the New York Times that the situation had “been very well handled."

As a result, his posting as ambassador to Canada was criticized by Mexico's national human-rights commission, the Juarez-based group May our Daughters Come Home, and the Quebec Federation of Women.

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