Monday, July 7, 2008

A Corpse is a Curiosity: Lawyer assassinated

--June 27, 2008 (My commentary is interspersed in this font style.)
The lawyer working for residents of the Lomas de Poleo community in regards to their land dispute was shot and killed in Chihuahua City June 20. Police said the investigation was ongoing, they have no suspects, and the motive is unknown. [We already knew this.]

Carlos Javier López Avitia, 42, was in a red Ford truck when he was fired upon by armed men driving in a Jeep, according to various accounts in El Diario and El Heraldo de Chihuahua. The men used an AK-47, among other weapons, in the attack. [Describes a typical Borderland-style assassination. Common occurrence these days.]

The death was not widely reported in Mexico, being just one of 10 that day in Chihuahua. But the news spread through Lomas de Poleo and through a community of activists in the U.S. who have been advocating for Lomas residents and following developments in the land dispute.
Father Bill Morton, who was ordered to leave Mexico because of his activities in support of the residents, said what was reported described a terrible violence. [10 murders--ho hum, just another day in Chihuahua, the state in North Mexico to which Juarez and Lomas belong. Also: N.B. that Morton was expelled from Mexico.]

After leaving a hearing at the Agrarian Court in Chihuahua City, Avitia’s vehicle was followed by a Jeep Cherokee.

"He was shot 19 times with an AK 47 in the head and neck and his head was nearly shot off," Morton said. "Two cabdrivers were also killed, but it appears that they were bystanders.
“They let him lay there (in the street) for quite some time. It seemed to be a message to those connected to Avitia. By the time the police arrived, the crime scene was contaminated. People were picking up souvenirs.” [...just when I think I'm beyond being shocked]

“Even in death you become a curiosity,” said Morton, his voice filled with emotion. Avitia, who was married and the father of four young sons, had represented residents of Lomas de Poleo for about three years. [Morton: courageous Catholic priest. Unusual man. Inadvertently he was a factor in my resettlement to El Paso, a story for another time.]

Background on the story ensues. You already know most of this:
The dispute pits a dwindling number of residents of Lomas de Poleo, a small community on a bluff overlooking Anapra, Juarez, and Sunland Park, N.M., against the wealthy industrialist Pedro Zaragoza Fuentes.

The Mexican constitution allows homesteaders to claim of up to 20,000 square meters per family, provided that federal agrarian authorities regulated the settlements, and the residents claim that they have proper title to the land. But Zaragoza claims that his family held title to the land, and that the residents of Lomas de Poleo moved in illegally.

Over the years, a small community grew in the area, with federally registered schools being built in 1980. These two primary schools are still registered, and the Corpus Christi Parish helps the spiritual needs of the Lomas residents.

Something else also built over the years -- tension between the settlers and Zaragoza. With the nearby Santa Teresa border crossing being approved and opened, the value of the land skyrocketed as did the legal bills, violence, and accusations on both sides.

In 2003, workers from the Mexican Federal Electric commission dismantled the power system that had just recently been set up, because of a federal court order requested by the Zaragoza family, which has claimed that many of the residents were new arrivals hoping themselves to speculate on the land.

It was also about this time that the first ‘goons’ were hired to intimidate and bully the residents of the mesa. Not long after, barbed wire fences and guard towers were built around the community, forcing residents to pass through gates.

Incidents of violence were reported in Lomas de Poleo, with several deaths occurring and two children perishing in a house fire, with both sides blaming the other. A number of bodies of young women also have been found, victims of the ongoing femicide that has gripped Juarez for years.

The court system has been busy with lawsuits and injunctions filed by both sides, and until recently, 62 of the landowner disputes filed against Zaragoza were being handled by attorney Avitia. Several other suits are being handled by Barbara Zamora Lopez, a well known human rights lawyer based in Mexico City. However, in recent months, speculations about Avitia’s activities concerned Lomas residents. [Wishing Barbara the very best...]

[The following controversy was news to me:]
According to a story published in April at, 57 of the 62 cases Avitia was working on had lapsed.

Jon Williams, a professional photographer and documentarian who has been following the Lomas del Poleo dispute, said that Mexican agrarian law requires that any case that involves land must be followed up on and brought up to date every four months.

“The LDP Alliance (one of several local activist groups that are working on the issue) met on the Monday after Avitia was killed. They were confused and upset, and were trying to piece things together, and the question was raised about whose side he was on,” Williams said.

But, said Williams, “(Avitia) was in Chihuahua City following up on one of the cases" when he was killed.
[according to Paso del Sur website: Avitia was killed two blocks from "the agrarian state courthouse where he had just filed two cases that morning related to Lomas del Poleo."]


dada said...

Thanks B.E. for further delineating background details on Lomas, on Avitia. A day or so after his assassination, we had heard rumors questioning Avitia's dedication to the residents of Lomas.

I passed 'em off as just that - rumors. (Maybe the alternative was way to "out there", i.e., that Lomas residents, discovering Avitia's betrayal, had him assassinated?) I couldn't handle that after listening to these meager people who just want to live in peace on the land they had lawfully homesteaded -- they thought.

Anyway, I appreciate you're keeping this topic alive. Coincidentally, yesterday while driving over Transmountain, it was so incredibly clear (and dramatic!) we stopped at the summit to take some pictures. (I intend to post a couple within the next day or two. I planned to comment on them, "Wish the Border Explorers had been along. They could have pointed out Lomas de Poleo to us. (Since the UTEP teach-in last spring, I'm a true traffic hazard everytime we drive by the border in that area -- always looking for the Lomas!)

Anyway, maybe if I get the pictures up in a day or two and if you should happen to see them and can point out this area of which you blog, I'd appreciate your help pointing it out. (It might save me from running into the path of a semi-truck on Interstate 10. Thanks!)

Good job!

Border Explorer said...

I was waiting for a media blitz following this assassination, Dada. But the information I found was underwhelming. The rumor mill, as per usual, simply adds to the chaos.

I look forward to your photos. Mr. B.E. is the directions/map specialist in the family, so I'll engage him in the identification process. We've only been to Lomas just that one time, so neither of us is exactly expert. We both would like to get more involved in Anapra on Round 3 of Border Exploring in December '08.

Thanks, as always for your blogging support. I suppose I'm boring the "H-E-double L" out of most people who make over here with my Lomas obsession. I appreciate your comment; your personal connection (the teach-in) probably makes the subject more interesting to you. It's seems it always comes down to the proximity factor.

BTW, you've been kicking you-know-what on the Dally these days. So do take care with that camera on I-10. We need you on Blogger.

dada said...

B.E. - This morning, my intention was to post a couple photos. Truly, the atmospherics coming home over the mountain Sunday evening were almost perfect for photos over on Dada's.

But, for some reason, the old PC (I prefer) and blogger weren't communicating too well. As a result, I substituted a cheap imitation of a blog until I can get those photos up. (Things seem to be working better now, so maybe by tomorrow?)

(I'm also waiting for the blood to drain from my cheeks after reading your last comment over on Dada's so I can respond. TYTYTY!)

But let me just say, the 19 best words I've heard since early May I heard right here, to wit:

"We both would like to get more involved in Anapra on Round 3 of Border Exploring in December '08."

(OK, 17 words. Two of 'em are numbers, I know, but they were very reassuring, very exciting, not just to me, but to Mrs. Dada as well. We're beginning to suspect, knowing of your ventures in S.A. and Cuba, you are Communists and we've never known any Communists! Would it help to tell you, I have a "Che" shirt? NOTE: To NSA, CIA, FBI AIA and all other secret agencies reading this, I'm J/K, okay?)

BTW, we're into our monsoon, sosoon already. We're loving it, i.e., so long as we don't turn into Iowa.

Oh, and what can we say about the media. It's more about what we can't say about the media, isn't it? Thanks for keeping me down here, posted about what's doing on down here -- from you up there!

Border Explorer said...

Dada, surely you knew we were coming back? (Sigh--so little faith in us.) Or maybe you were just happy we want to work in Anapra more? (Thereby ridding us from hanging around El P?) NOooo, I'm just kidding. I'm really glad you'd be looking forward to our return. We are really missing El Paso, possibly another reason I've been so obsessed with the Lomas story.

Sorry you've been having computer problems again. I wish my real blog entries measured anywhere in the ballpark of your so-called "cheap imitation of a blog" posts.

I don't know that I'm affiliated with any political party right now. However, if I had access to a Che shirt, I might be tempted to "go red," I suppose. Want to loan me the shirt off your back? You might get a nice kick-back from the Commies if you get me to sign with them. It could be a new career for you, Dada: a recruiter. Think about it.

D.K. Raed said...

Does anyone doubt this is payback? So now WHO will step fwd to represent the Lomas citizens? I doubt this is what Shakespeare had in mind with his admonition to "first kill all the lawyers". Sorry, bad joke. But hearing the details of this event unfold through your blog, B.E., I feel like what we are witnessing is how international wars start, only on a smaller scale. Where is the humanity? Where is the compromise? Why is violence the solution?

D.K. Raed said...

ps, after reading these comments here, I want to give my greetings to a fellow traveler (grin)!

Border Explorer said...

D.K., I love how your mind works. Wow, conflict--all in a few sentences. Good questions, too. The situation in Juarez is the purest, rawest evil I've ever been closest to in my life.
No one has taken responsibility for the assassination, to my knowledge. But, agreed: how can it be anything but payback and a warning?