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Saturday, October 30, 2010
Bravery Against Border Fear
By Diane Dimond
Remember the name Marisol Valles Garcia. She'll either go down in history as a selfless heroine or she'll soon be dead. Maybe both. Just 20 years old, Marisol lives in the small and violent Mexican border village of Praxedis G. Guerrero, population 9,149. She is a criminal justice graduate student, married and the mother of a little boy. The baby calls her Mama. The rest of her village now calls her Chief, their chief of police. It's a job no one else in her village would take for fear they'd lose their lives if they put on a badge. The last man in Marisol's position, Chief Manuel Castro, was kidnapped tortured and beheaded last year. But Marisol says she took the job because she's just tired of everyone being afraid. She said after being sworn in, "We have to reclaim our lives!" It's no wonder her villagers are scared.
Their Juarez Valley community sits smack in the path of a war zone where two rival drug gangs fight for control of a nearby highway. And the senseless violence there is taking place just half a mile from the Mexican-Texas border, just about 100 miles south of Corpus Christi. Tens of thousands of murders have been attributed to the marauding lawlessness that's gripped Mexico so far this year. The outlaws are trafficking the most valuable of illegal commodities: drugs, guns and other human beings. They let nothing and nobody get in their way. Children have been gunned down while having fun at a birthday party; innocents standing in the wrong place at the wrong time and several Mexican police officers in communities all along the border region with the United States have turned up dead, many with their corpses mutilated as a signal to others of how ruthless the criminals can be if someone tries to stop them. The death toll is sure to rise by the end of the year.
But Marisol Valles Garcia waves off the idea that her new job — for which she's paid just $640 a month — is akin to a suicide mission. She simply saw a desperate need for a return to peace and safety in her home village and so, she says, she stepped up to accept the challenge. "There is a lot of fear in this town, but we can't live like that," she recently told a reporter. Perhaps just as courageous is her bare-bones staff equipped with paltry resources. Marisol commands just 13 officers, nine of whom are women. They have just one patrol car and four guns — that's it. That's the sum total of their arsenal, and the chief has decided she won't carry a gun because she'd rather her officers have them out in the field. "The best weapons we have are principles and values, which are the best weapons for prevention," she told CNN en Español.
Marisol readily admits she'll have to rely on the Mexican Army to handle the traffickers and her influence will be limited to local crime prevention and minor infractions. For now Chief Garcia says she's content to concentrate on her own backyard and to try to re-instill in her neighbors the idea that they can take back control of their community. This woman either has her head in the clouds or she's on to something. I'd like to think it's the latter. I'd like to think more brave souls will stand up with her and re-claim their peace of mind.
Why should we Americans care? Isn't this Mexico's problem? The answer is clear: Americans are getting caught in the cross fire. It's only a matter of time before the violence spills across our border in even more vicious ways. Just last week, a Texas National Guardsman was killed in the bloody border city of Ciudad Juarez, which was once known as a popular party destination. Just why 21-year-old Jose Ramirez defied the military's suggestion to stay out of the area is unknown, but he became the latest of at least three American service members killed in Juarez since the drug war began. Last November, Staff Sgt. David Booher, an airman from Holloman Air Force Base, was among six killed when gunmen suddenly shot up a bar. In 2008, Lance Cpl. Gustavo Zubia Lopez was shot and his body thrown off a cliff in Juarez after he ventured across the border to get his car repaired. Look, we've spent $1 billion so far trying to build an ill-conceived fence between our two countries to keep the violence "over there." After four years only 50 miles of the fence has been completed. Maybe our tax dollars would be better spent funding more Chief Marisol Valles Garcia type projects — providing vehicles, weapons and tools to empower the local Mexican population along our border. The situation brings to mind the biblical saying that "A little child shall lead them." Maybe in this case it's a determined 20-year-old woman who could use some help.
www.DianeDimond.net — e-mail to Diane@DianeDimond.net