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Cover of Juarez book: man climbing over border fence

Juarez 2: Gangs {format} {format} 8:43 Scott Carrier

Violence as a daily fact of life.

Broadcast: Jun 28 2004 on NPR Day to DaySeries: Juarez: City on the Edge Subjects: International, Hispanic, Justice

Profile: Barrio gangs in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

June 28, 2004 from Day to Day

ALEX CHADWICK, host: This is DAY TO DAY fro NPR News in Los Angeles. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Mexico City yesterday protesting crime. Dressed in white, they packed the city's main square. They carried banners calling for the death penalty for kidnappers, rapists and murderers.

A wave of kidnappings and murders has shocked Mexicans. In the 10 years between 1992 and 2002, there were 15,000 kidnappings reported in the country, and many more are thought to have gone unreported. Just in Ciudad Juarez, the city across the border from El Paso, Texas, more than 300 women have been murdered. DAY TO DAY sent writer and radio producer Scott Carrier to Juarez for a series about they city. The series is running this summer on DAY TO DAY. Today, Scott takes us into a neighborhood in Juarez for the stories of some of the young men who are hanging out on the barrio streets. Scott's traveling with Juarez photographer Julian Cardona.

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SCOTT CARRIER reporting:

Julian wants to check his e-mail. He's got a photo show coming up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and he needs to write to the people there. So we're driving over to his aunt's house in the Barrio Alto(ph), where he keeps his 15-inch PowerBook. He can't leave it at his house because he's surrounded by an army of junkies who'd break in and take it. His aunt's house in the Barrio Alto is also surrounded by junkies, but someone's always home there. Julian says Juarez is full of gangs.

Mr. JULIAN CARDONA (Photographer): The whole city is full of gangs. There are 450 colonias and maybe you can find three or four gangs in each colonia.

CARRIER: A colonia is a neighborhood. The Barrio Alto neighborhood is like a very poor version of San Francisco. It sits up high on a hill overlooking the city. The houses are in a row, bright colors, flowers on the porch, razor wire on top of the walls. Julian is showing me how every two or three blocks the graffiti on the walls changes.

And what does it say? Can you read it?

Mr. CARDONA: Its says, `Barrio Alto Brisa(ph).' You know, it say Briseros(ph). It means `People from the Brisa.'

CARRIER: So this is their territory.


CARRIER: All right.

Mr. CARDONA: Let's take a look at...

CARRIER: The territorial border lines are everywhere around us, cutting the neighborhood up into little boxes. But the lines are invisible to me. I can't read the graffiti, and the streets look just like neighborhood streets. Men and boys, little kids, walking around; they don't look unfriendly.

Mr. CARDONA: Their business is not assaulting you. Their business is different.

CARRIER: What is their business?

Mr. CARDONA: Well, they move drugs, you know. They sell weapons.

CARRIER: I asked Julian if we could stop and talk to someone in a gang, and he pulls over and starts talking to a young man.

Mr. CARDONA: (Spanish spoken)

CARRIER: Julian tells the guy we're reporters and just want to talk, and he says OK.


CARRIER: He's with two others, teen-age boys. They're all clean and neat, wearing designer sweatshirts, baggy pants, basketball shoes.

So where are we?

RICARDO(ph): (Spanish spoken)

CARRIER: The kid--his name's Ricardo--looks at me and says, `We're the Tacos Trenta(ph), and this is our hangout. We have rivalries with the other gangs every day. Not long ago, the K-13(ph) hit one of our dudes. They stabbed him in the stomach. Four or six months ago, they were driving by and they shot me four times.'

Can you show me where you were wounded?

He pulls up his shirt and shows us.


He has four holes in the right side of his chest.

So are these bullet wounds?

RICARDO: (Spanish spoken)

Mr. CARDONA: This is...

CARRIER: The bullet came in here...


CARRIER: ...and went out here?

One of the other kids pulls up his shirt, and his scar is even worse.

Yo, what happened to you?

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

CARRIER: What is that? I mean, it's a--you got a five-inch-long scar running vertically above your belly button up toward your sternum. What happened?

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

Mr. CARDONA: They were walking, and a car was passing by and he was shot.

Unidentified Man: (Spanish spoken)

Mr. CARDONA: The bullet is still in his body.

CARRIER: Oh, it's still in there.


CARRIER: But is it common for young men who grow up here to be shot?

Unidentified Men: Si. Si.

CARRIER: Why are other people shooting you? What was their motive?

Mr. ROBERT RAMIREZ(ph): To defend the barrio.

CARRIER: To defend the barrio.

Mr. RAMIREZ: Mm-hmm.

CARRIER: But why? What's to defend?

Mr. RAMIREZ: This is Mexican style, from Los Angeles, from United States, maybe.

CARRIER: This guy has just joined the group. He's older, missing some teeth.

What's your name?

Mr. RAMIREZ: Robert. Robert Ramirez.

CARRIER: And you live here in this barrio?

Mr. RAMIREZ: Mm-hmm.

CARRIER: Is the violence--is the fighting over drugs? Is that what it's about or...

Mr. RAMIREZ: Over drugs? No. Is about the barrio.


Mr. RAMIREZ: For the honor, you know.


Mr. RAMIREZ: Mm-hmm. You got honor, this is your place, so you defend your area. If you got guns, it's better.

CARRIER: What kind of guns do you have?

Mr. RAMIREZ: Hmm. A lot of guns. Rifles and pistols what we got.

Mr. CARDONA: (Spanish spoken)

CARRIER: Julian asks them if they know the people they're shooting.

RICARDO: (Spanish spoken)

CARRIER: And Ricardo says, `Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Several are already dead. Whether we know him or not, if the guy's hanging out in our barrio, then we get him. If we know him, even better.'

RICARDO: (Spanish spoken)

CARRIER: Ricardo is 28 years old, but looks 20, doubly surprising because he says he was a heroin junkie for 13 years, a habit that cost him $60 to $80 a day, more than a week's pay in Juarez for honest labor. He says, `I'd rob businesses, hijack cars, go inside stores and rob the people or assault people who came by. I did everything. I was combining heroin and cocaine and shooting them. You need every day more and more. Your bones get all fragile and you feel like an old man. A lot of people here die by combining heroin and pills. They turn purple and die. I just wanted to get out of it. No more stealing; no more screwing around.'

RICARDO: (Spanish spoken)

CARRIER: We tell the guys thanks, and they say, `No problem.' We get back in the and drive down the hill to Julian's aunt's house.

Mr. CARDONA: So we have been in Barrio Alto Chavez(ph), we have been in Tacos Trenta, we have been in Leones(ph), we have been in K-13, we have been in La Brisa(ph), and five gangs in less than 10 blocks.

CARRIER: Yeah, less than a square mile.

This is how it is in the Barrio Alto, and the Barrio Alto is a good neighborhood in Juarez. Julian could leave if he wanted to. He's got other relatives and a bank account in El Paso. He could live over there, two miles away, in suburban safety. He stays in Juarez because this is his home, these are his people, and to leave would be a desertion.

We park outside Julian's aunt's house and he goes in to send an e-mail to Chapel Hill. I sit in the car and lock the doors. This is Scott Carrier.

CHADWICK: Scott's reports come to us through the independent radio producers' organization, And you can see the work of photographer Julian Cardona at our Web site, npr.or. We have the first part of the series up there, as well, and you'll be able to find the whole series as weeks go by.

Next week, Scott goes into one of the factories where tens of thousands of people work in Ciudad Juarez. They're called maquiladoras, and this is how the people who work in them live.

CARRIER: Much of Juarez is comprised of neighborhoods that look like scenes from a "Mad Max" movie: squatter settlements built on sand dunes, where entire families live in 10-by-15-foot shacks made from wooden pallets covered with cardboard and tar paper, metal bars over the windows and doors. Gangs rob and steal and kill. Young girls disappear. Sometimes whole neighborhoods go up in flames.

CHADWICK: Scott Carrier from the Ciudad Juarez series on DAY TO DAY.

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CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News.