Her Innocent War

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In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in June last year vowing to kill drug suspects.

These criminals deserved to die, he said. Those chilling words were the beginning of a year of bloody carnage on the streets that has left 7, people or so dead. Bloodied bodies are found dead daily in backstreets or dead ends, shot or stabbed, or even tortured, perhaps bound or gagged, their crimes never proven in any court, and no differentiation made among casual users, addicts or dealers. Nearly all victims were poor, whose lives always matter less. Police reports usually say suspects were killed when they tried to fight back.

One of the few critics was Senator Leila de Lima.

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She was accused of drug trafficking and jailed. Local Klang MP Charles Santiago attempted to see her, in his capacity as Asean parliamentarian for human rights, but was refused. Indeed, perhaps what is most shocking is the silence about the slaughter. Until last month, that is, when a year-old secondary school student, Kian delos Santos, was found dead, shot in the ear and back, in the Manila suburb of Caloocan.

Police said he was shot while trying to fight back. But witnesses and CCTV told another story. I have a test tomorrow. A gun was found in his left hand; yet his father said he was right-handed. His family insisted that he never had a gun, nor did drugs. In fact, dirt poor, he had barely any possessions, even sharing a bed with siblings.

His mother was working as a maid in Saudi Arabia. His death was followed by that of another teenager, Carl Arnaiz, And then another. Reynaldo de Guzman was found floating in a creek with dozens of stab wounds and signs of torture. His head was wrapped in packaging tape, a grotesque hallmark of a drug killing. He was just The killing had become more indiscriminate, inevitable when lives are not valued.

More so when people are paid to kill, as some police officers have told Reuters.

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One of the youngest victims was Danica Mae Garcia, five. Her family was just sitting down to lunch when gunmen burst in and shot her grandfather, Maximo, who was on a list of suspect pushers. Maximo had previously gone to the police station to clear his name, according to a report in social news network Rappler. She decided to begin from May It was then at the height of the bloodletting there in Mexico's deadliest city when, one night at 4am, she, her husband and three sons awoke to a terrible pounding at their front door.

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Then he said: 'Go hide with the kids. They have guns,'" she recalled. Roman, 28, is a member of Mexicanos En Exilio — or "Mexicans In Exile" — a network of Mexican activists, journalists, politicos and ordinary working-class families like hers, who arrived in the United States seeking asylum from criminal assassins in Mexico. These are innocent victims of the Mexican drug war. In the words of their immigration lawyer, Carlos Spector, an immigration lawyer in El Paso, Texas, where most of these exiles end up, they "risked their lives for truth and justice in Mexico" and were "forced to leave because of the Mexican government's failure or unwillingness to protect them".

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Cristina's case is different, however. She didn't protest against corruption or document violence, but fell victim for a rather banal reason: being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The incident that put her in a drug cartel's crosshairs was a mass shooting she escaped as one of few surviving witnesses. From a small home in New Mexico, where she now lives in hiding, Cristina reflected on that event, but noted it wasn't her first brush with violence in Juarez. That's how she began describing the night three gunmen broke through her front door.

Personal accounts like hers, while isolated, provide shocking glimpses of the trauma and tragedy that exist for people living amidst Mexico's brutal drug war. These stories also reveal a state of lawlessness that experts say is unlikely to stop any time soon. As gunman entered her home, Cristina told her sons, aged eight and six, to stay calm.

The men soon called for her to come out. She did, and was immediately grabbed and thrown to the floor. The men then pistol-whipped her husband, who collapsed next to her. I only want my children. One man — "El Vato" — hovered over her saying he would execute them all. Another gunman then said: "What are you doing?

We came for him. Don't get out of control.

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He said: "Go to your kids' room, close the door, and no matter what you hear, don't leave, don't speak. And for the next half hour heard them beating her husband.


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He groaned and wept through the assault as she huddled with their sons in silence. After 30 minutes, when the noise finally ceased, Cristina came out to the awful realization that her husband had been kidnapped. Two hours later, her brother-in-law received a phone call with ransom instructions. Cristina's husband owned a small used-car dealership, and over the next two days, she and her brother-in-law hustled to sell his lot, liquidate assets, raise funds, withdraw savings.

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The fourth day they threw his dead body in the street. That vague sentencing of 60, people naturally enrages victims' families. The men who killed Cristina's husband were never brought to justice. There is no way to know whether they worked for the Zetas or Sinoloa cartels, which are active in Juarez Valley. That is a strong possibility, however. According to Ben West, an analyst for geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor, the cartels have increasingly diversified their criminal activity to include extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking, in response to losses incurred in the drug trade.

Ironically, this means that Mexican civilians are becoming victims of their government's success. West added: "You have criminal groups taking advantage of the overall security situation and basically pulling people at gunpoint and saying give me your money.

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With the police all caught up in this, there is no rule of law. Cristina took a job at a Juarez nightclub after her husband's murder. She went from stay-at-home mother to single breadwinner for three overnight, and moved in with her parents so they could help. On 31 March, , at about 8. Searching for weapons, they padded men between the legs, looked up women's skirts, emptied handbags and checked bathroom stalls.

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That level of scrutiny was unprecedented, Cristina said. At one point an officer even began groping a colleague of hers.


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She intervened, saying: "Hey — we respect you and your work, you should respect us. You can't treat us like that. A few minutes after the police left, two men entered the bar carrying automatic weapons. A man near entrance lunged for the doorway and they shot him. Everyone was screaming with fear.

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