More than half of them had been killed, some of their heads placed on the gazebo and park benches of guadalupes town plaza as a warning. The remaining officers fled. The mayor and city council left town after two city council members were gunned down in 2009. Gunmen caught up with mayor Jesus Manuel Lara in 2010, killing him outside the home hed fled to in juarez. After Laras death, tomás Archuleta, an accountant, became guadalupes new mayor. Upon assuming office, he asked Erika gandara, his 28-year-old niece and a former security guard, to be the towns lone police officer. At the same time, in the neighboring county seat of Praxedis. Guerrero, population 2,200, marisol Valles, a 20-year-old criminology student in black-rimmed glasses, was appointed police chief after the entire police force was killed and city hall strafed by machine gun fire.
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On our way back through town we stopped to ask where we might find the bakery that once belonged to the reyes Salazar family, well known for its community activism in guadalupe. The family became the center of an international human rights scandal after gunmen murdered six members of the reyes family—crimes the mexican government failed to even investigate. I pulled over, and Cardona rolled down his window to ask a young woman selling used clothes in front of her house where we might find the bakery. Her the eyes grew wide as if shed been struck, then she shook her head no without saying a word. We encountered a similar response from two more residents. No one wants to be seen talking to us, cardona said. Lets try the mayors office. Little remains of the towns government. Anybody who worked for the town of guadalupe prior to 2008 has either been killed or fled. There was once a police force of 10 officers, but by the end of 2010 none remained.
I gingerly made my way toward it through broken glass and writings blackened rubble. Along the perimeter of the house someone had raked little pyramids of desiccated dog turds into tidy piles. Inside the one-room structure, birth certificates, land titles and other personal documents were strewn across the floor beneath a layer of sand. Scattered among the papers were glossy campaign leaflets with a photo of Apolonio amaya, a former guadalupe mayor for the Institutional revolutionary party, known as the pri. I would later find out that gunmen had killed Polo in 2006, and his son Omar, also a former mayor, in 2007. Polos daughter, a schoolteacher, was shot dead in 2008 while driving her car on the outskirts of town. Polos wife was also killed. The documents in the small wood-paneled room were all that remained of the family.
Each house looked as if its inhabitants had left most everything behind. I unearthed a charred page from. Don quixote and a blackened chapter thesis from a bible reader. The only page still legible was titled. In another corner of charred rubble, i found an assemblage of porcelain baby doll heads, and their disembodied doll parts in a pile that conjured a macabre crime scene. We moved to the next devastated home, where i found a collection of melted family albums of a wedding party. We tried to make out their faces, but the plastic crumbled in our fingers. Behind the house, i noticed a one-room structure that hadnt been torched.
Before i left El Paso, a former guadalupe resident had told me the sinaloa cartel liked to employ young children as lookouts. Cardona got out and started picking his way through some of the burned and gutted homes, taking pictures. I felt spooked and stayed in the car watching for trucks with tinted windows. But no one came to ask what we were doing there. Just the two boys on their bikes passed by from time to time. I finally got out of the car and started prodding through a burned-out home looking for clues about its former inhabitants. Were they among the living or the dead? In one room there were coffee cups, half a ceramic angel and the melted remains of a pair of silver high heels.
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They were barely out of their teens, with the dark indigenous features of southern Mexico. As we rolled to a stop, the soldier with the red flag peered at us through the window. He still had writer's a teenagers acne. He looked at us for a moment, vaguely curious, then waved us through without a word. Guadalupe is laid out in a simple grid just nine or 10 blocks in either direction, fading at the edges into the Chihuahuan desert scrub. The sky had cleared to a vibrant blue, but the town was dusty and desolate. Rows of brick and cement-block homes were charred to their foundations and gutted.
No one had made an effort to clean up the destruction. As we drove on we noticed some life at an improvised market in the center of town where used clothes, vegetables and fruit were for sale essay on folding card tables. A few people milled around but hardly anyone seemed to be buying. The townspeople made a point of not seeing us as we passed by in our white rental with Texas plates, but by now everyone must have known we were there. Two young boys rode by on dirt bikes and stared.
Our destination was guadalupe, population 3,000, the county seat and largest town in the valley. Guadalupe is the hometown of Jose rodolfo El rikin Escajeda, a hyper-violent, heavyset thug who controlled the valley for the juarez cartel until his arrest in 2009. The sinaloa cartels battle to unseat El rikin had started the bloodshed. El rikin, in his 30s, ran the plaza for nearly a decade with his brother Oscar Alonso Escajeda, known as la gata, who worked for the sinaloa cartel. The Escajedas were one of the valleys oldest families; they had founded guadalupe after the. S.-Mexico war was settled in 1848.
One of the towns streets was named Francisco Escajeda after one of El rikins ancestors. But the drug lord generated a different kind of respect, wrought from the fearsome reputation hed earned as capo over the region. It was said that El rikin fed his unlucky victims to a lion he kept on one of his many ranches. As we approached the outskirts of guadalupe, an army checkpoint loomed ahead. Four soldiers in camouflage, dwarfed by their assault rifles, stood in the middle of the two-lane highway around an improvised shelter of sandbags and wood. One of the soldiers waved a red flag for us to stop.
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The place was too sparsely populated and crawling with soldiers. Like most juarez residents, cardona had come to fear the mexican military, which has amassed hundreds of human rights complaints while patrolling the streets of his hometown. In 2010, President Felipe calderon pulled the reviled troops out of the city, but in the neighboring juarez valley, the soldiers remained. They erected barracks in the small towns and maintain checkpoints along Carretera federal 2—the only real paved road in and out of the valley. As we gender drove east, the ragged, coffee-colored peaks of the sierra de guadalupe rose in the south. Beyond the sierra were the vast Samalayuca sand dunes, where the science-fiction movie. To the north was the rio grande, now just a dusty channel, and five miles farther the flyblown town of Tornillo, texas. Just four years ago, it would have been a relaxing drive, but my hands felt tense on the steering wheel.
They told me that after four years of terror and persecution, some of it perpetrated by the spa mexican authorities, they no longer trusted anyone and felt safe nowhere. The official story is that the army was sent in to protect residents and drive out the cartels, but townspeople tell a different story. They say the soldiers, working in league with the sinaloa cartel, perpetrated much of the violence. After hundreds of deaths, their towns are still held hostage by the cartels and the military. The cemeteries are all full. There isnt anywhere left to bury the bodies, one former resident told. Youll find nothing there but ghost towns and soldiers. On a gray morning in early november, i set out for the juarez valley in a rented car with Julian Cardona, a seasoned photographer and reporter from juarez. After five years of reporting on drug-war bloodshed, cardona wasnt particularly keen.
community activists were shot down in the streets. By 2009, the valley, with a population of 20,000, had a shocking murder rate of 1,600 per 100,000 inhabitants—six times higher than its neighboring deadliest city in the world—according to government estimates. In one particularly gruesome stretch in 2010, several valley residents were stabbed in the face with ice picks, and a local man aligned with the juarez cartel was skewered with an iron bar, riddled with bullets, then roasted over an open fire. The juarez newspapers began to call the rural farming region the valley of death. Most of the valleys residents who survived fled to texas or juarez, where they felt safer. In the small towns of guadalupe, praxedis. Guerrero, porvenir, Esperanza and the even smaller hamlets that dot the valley, theres been no official census in recent years, so no one knows exactly how many people have left, or how many residents have been killed or forcibly disappeared. I located a dozen former residents, most of whom would consent to be interviewed only if they remained anonymous.
After that, the only industry that thrived was drug smuggling. Because of the valleys sparse population and location along the rio grandes dried up riverbed, a person can easily drive or walk into texas loaded down with marijuana and cocaine. For decades, this lucrative smuggling corridor, or plaza, was controlled by the juarez cartel. In 2008, mexicos largest, most powerful syndicate—the sinaloa cartel, run by joaquin El Chapo guzman—declared war on the juarez cartel and moved in to take over london the territory. The federal government sent in the military to quell the violence. Instead the murder rate in the state of Chihuahua exploded. The bloodshed in the city of juarez made international news. It was dubbed the deadliest city in the world.
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Mellow Yellow, plays a mix of mellow but upbeat tunes. Listen to this playlist and relieve the some stress! James Blunt, kaleo, christopher Cross, big Star, the jam. Photos by julian Cardona, to reach the deadliest place in Mexico you take carretera federal 2, a well-paved stretch of highway that begins at the outskirts of juarez, east for 50 miles along the rio grande, passing through cotton and alfalfa fields until you reach. The juarez valley is a narrow corridor of green farmland carved from the Chihuahuan desert along the rio grande. Farmers proudly say it was once known for its cotton, which rivaled Egypts. But that was before the booming growth of juarezs factories in the 1990s left farmers downstream with nothing but foul-smelling sludge to irrigate their fields.