Border Shooting Exposes the Depth of the Divide
by NPT Staff and Frontera News Service
Posted on January 9, 2006
Just like the old year ended, the new one began with rising tensions on the US-Mexico border. Fueling discord this time was the shooting death of a young Mexican man, Guillermo Martinez Rodriguez, by a U.S. Border Patrol agent. The shooting has become a major international incident, with hundreds of stories on the Internet and traditional press fueling reactions at both the highest international and grassroots levels.
In El Paso, the Border Network for Human Rights coordinated a vigil outside the Border Patrol Headquarters Friday (Jan. 6) night. About 20 people showed up to condemn the killing, chanting the populist slogan "el pueblo unido, hamas sera vencido (the village united, cannot be divided), and making a statement about what they consider the militarization of the border and criminalization of its residents. Saul Soto, one of the organizers, said such incidents are not uncommon, and he blamed poor training and growing animosity in the U.S. towards undocumented migrants.
Internationally, the incident prompted a round of denunciations from Mexican politicians and the unusual sending of a diplomatic note to Washington from the Fox Administration. In addition, Mexico is reportedly considering trying to the agent in absentia.
The Death of Martinez
A native of Jalisco state, the 20-year-old Martinez was with several other young men who were trying to illegally cross the U.S. border at the border wall in the Tijuana-San Diego area last Friday, Dec. 30, when they were confronted by U.S. Border Patrol agents.
The exact circumstances of what ensued after the encounter with the agents are still unclear. Guillermo Martinez's brother, Agustin, who was present at the scene of the shooting, said his brother was shot while fleeing from the Border Patrol. A Border Patrol spokesman, Raul Martinez (no relation to the shooting victim), said the agent responsible for the shooting felt his life might have been in danger from rocks that were allegedly being tossed at the agents. Martinez was then wounded in the upper part of his body by a gunshot from the still-unidentified Border Patrol agent.
Martinez managed to flee to the Mexican side of the border, where he later died in a Tijuana hospital. Francisco Castro Trenti, the homicide division coordinator for the Baja California Attorney General's Office, said Mexican forensic specialists determined that Martinez was hit by a 9 mm bullet fired from a distance of six to 15 feet.
The Deepening Divide
Coming on the heels of last month's passage of the Sensenbrenner border security bill by the U.S. House of Representatives, the Martinez shooting grabbed headlines in the print media and commanded lead story status in electronic news outlets south of the border.
Martinez's death inspired a fresh round of Mexican denunciations of US border policy. President Fox's spokesman Ruben Aguilar condemned the shooting, urging respect for the human rights of Mexican migrants and the approval of a new Mexico-U.S. immigration accord. Baja California Governor Eugenio Elorduy likewise criticized the shooting, adding the use of firearms was not "justified."
Heriberto Garcia Garcia, the Tijuana regional coordinator of Mexico's official National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), called the shooting "the culmination of an adverse year for migrants." In a communique, the CNDH's national office demanded that the Martinez shooting, together with other acts of violence against migrants along the California-Baja California border, be thoroughly investigated. The CNDH contended that U.S. authorities might not be controlling violent police elements, and incurring in violations of international human rights agreements signed by Washington.
The Mexican Congress' permanent commission was expected to pass a resolution on Wednesday, January 4 condemning the killing of Guillermo Martinez. Rodrigo Ivan Cortes, a federal deputy for the conservative PAN party, said the measure was influenced by other recent events like the passage of the Sensenbrenner bill.
Carlos Jimenez Macias, a federal deputy who represents the PRI party, characterized US-Mexico relations as approaching a "crisis point." Blasting US Congressional and White House postures as racist and xenophobic, Jimenez said a deterioration in relations is not in the best interests of Washington, in view of the "strategic" place of the Mexican border in US security.
Outside government circles, a leader of a Tijuana grassroots group said her organization is considering bringing the Martinez case to the world stage. Esmeralda Siu Martinez, the human rights coordinator for the Coalition in Defense of the Migrant, said her organization might file complaints with unspecified international human rights institutions. At the same time, the Mexican Consulate in San Diego is working with the family of Guillermo Martinez to undertake possible legal action. Martinez left a wife and two children, according to the Border Network for Human Rights, Soto's group.
In El Paso, the Border Network called upon the U.S. Attorney's office to investigate "not only the December 30 incident that claimed the life of Guillermo Martinez Rodriguez, but all other Border Patrol involved shootings, (including) the El Paso Juan Patricio incident as well," according to a prepared statement.
On the U.S. side of the border, the Martinez shooting is being investigated by San Diego homicide investigators, while on the Mexican side, it is being probed by the Federal Attorney General's Office. According to San Diego police Lt. Kevin Rooney, the results of the U.S. investigation will be turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
* * *
Sources: Enfoque International, January 2 and 3, 2006. San Diego Union Tribune, January 3, 2006. Article by Kelly Thornton. Frontera, January 2 and 3, 2006. Articles by Fausto Valle and Luis Adolfo San. La Jornada, January 2, 2006. El Universal, January 2 and 3, 2006. Articles by Carlos Avila, Jorge Herrera, Julia Martinez, and press services. El Sur/Agencia Reforma, January 3, 2006.
* * *
Material used with permission from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico
Most Viewed Stories
- Reyes at the Pearson Forum: A perspective from the audience
- PSB's high standards are the best stormwater option
- Drug-related kidnappings in El Paso hard to pin down but ICE stands by 6
- Sex clubs and swingers in El Paso
- Downtown Diary: Where the Prostitutes Roam
- 2010: Shapleigh Sitting Out
- Police Blotter 12.21-23.09: Man arrested in hit and run; 2nd arrest made in theft case
- Forbes lists El Paso as top city in income growth
- El Paso ISD Embraces Honest Grading, Sort Of
- Richard Pearson, El Paso's brash TV pioneer, dies at 71