On Friday evening, December 4, Adelaida Plasencia Sierra was gravely wounded by a firearm during what seemed at first just a common robbery. But things aren't always what they seem in her poor neighborhood just outside of Juárez: Lomas del Poleo.
At 6:00 PM two men arrived at her house, claiming they had run out of gasoline. Oddly, they then tried to sell her a cellular phone, and she replied that she had no money. But the mood quickly turned ominous when the two strangers abruptly asked if "Vicente" (her husband) or "Aurelio" were around.
Lomas del Poleo is no ordinary slum neighborhood. Aurelio, Adelaida's neighbor, is the Plascencias' companion in a civil struggle for the land they live on and believe they own.
Years ago some poor, formerly landless citizens had squatted---a time-honored and lawful method of acquiring land in Mexico---on the worthless desert wasteland of Lomas del Poleo. It was a remote mesa top that nobody wanted. Gradually these poorest of the poor constructed dwellings of their own, huts that were often built of warehouse pallets covered with cardboard.
Now, however, in the wake of NAFTA, Lomas del Poleo property lies directly in the path of proposed international economic development interests. The real estate value of the land has risen exponentially.
And now their ownership of the land is in dispute.
Adelaida then noticed that the men had their faces covered and were carrying a pistol. The supposed thieves grabbed her by the arms, pulling off her jacket. However, she managed to free herself and retreated into her house. As she was standing in the doorway, the assailants fired nine shots at both her and the house and then fled in the car.
Earlier that day, a white car without license plates parked in front of Adelaida's house for over three hours. Now, this same vehicle was silently circling Adelaida and Vicente's property.
After NAFTA passed, Pedro and Jorge Zaragoza Fuentes of the Mexican billionaire family claimed ownership of the land that comprises Lomas del Poleo. Two years ago, a group of Lomas residents initiated a legal process against the Zaragozas, disputing Zaragozas' rights to the land and asserting their own ownership. In 2008 and 2009 this group suffered various acts of aggression perpetrated, they say, by paid guards employed by Pedro Zaragoza.
"People living in an area northwest of Ciudad Juarez called Lomas del Poleo, are being harassed and attacked by private security guards hired by landowners who dispute their ownership of the land. The incidents appear to have intensified since the end of last year, and the safety of the inhabitants is at particular risk as the Agrarian Tribunal in charge of deciding who the lands belongs to, started a series of hearings."
In the last few months the Mexican Agrarian Tribunal has issuing rulings in favor of the residents of Lomas in their legal case. The case is in its ultimate stage and the Zaragoza Fuentes family as of yet has not successfully demonstrated their ownership of the land to the Tribunal.
Adelaida is in the hospital, still, recovering from the bullet wound to her chest, according to Rev. Bill Morton, the Catholic priest who has been accompanying the Lomas community.
Father Morton framed the incident optimistically:
"The doctor said if it had been just a couple centimeters lower she would have been dead. That she is alive is a miracle, then, and a sign of hope that violence and aggression will not always win the day."
This video, taken in April 2008, is of the landscape seen while driving through Lomas del Poleo. Shortly after the video was filmed the property was closed to any but those who occupy homes in the area. Gatekeepers employed by the Zaragosas screen any would-be entrants. Non-residents are prohibited from entering the area: