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A bridge in the desert

11 June 2010

One of my favorite novels is B. Traven’s “Puente en la selva”, the heartbreaking and excruciating story of a 12-year old boy’s funeral, the boy having drowned when he slips off a bridge, wearing new, “gringo” shoes. Are the gringos responsible for the boy’s death? No. His brother who brought the shoes back from his stay north of the border? No. The death simply happened, and is accepted as such.

Photo: El Heraldo de Chihuahua

Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca was buried yesterday.  He was barely 15 years old.  He too died at a bridge… Puente Negro across the nearly dry Rio Bravo del Norte/Rio Grande River in the Chihuahua Desert. We have to accept that he died… but unlike the boy in the jungle, this death did not simply happen. The gringos were not the accidental, but the active agents of this death.  The question of why — and how — Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca ended up shot in the head under a pillar on the Mexican side of Puente Negro in Juarez is  something the United States government is not going to be easily laid to rest.

Some confusion over the boy’s name and age  are normal when a story like this is initially reported…  and are expected and forgivable.  What was unforgivable were the attempts by “an unnamed source” to suggest that the boy “was on a ‘most wanted’ list of juvenile smugglers compiled by U.S. authorities in the El Paso area.”  Leaked only to Fox News and with a name that wasn’t even close to correct (Huereka), the rumor appears not to have legs, although, of course it is being spread on right-wing U.S. websites as justification for shooting the boy across the international border.

Mark Qualia, of the Customs and Border Protection service (the Border Patrol) was identified by CNN as the probable source, being quoted as saying “Hernandez Guereca, had been

Latin American Herald-Tribune

apprehended by U.S. officials on more than one occassion but was never criminally charged.”  Fox claimed “Huereka” as on some “most wanted list” — something I’m not sure exists officially or otherwise.   However, when confronted with the videotape later shown by Univision and CNN that showed Hernández was shot on the Mexican side of the border (and it’s unclear he was even throwing rocks, let alone had crossed the river into the United States) had a very different statement.

CNNMexico reports (my translation):

Mark Qualia, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said he could not comment on it because he had no knowledge of the Mexican government sources.

But Qualia was able to say that there had been 799 assaults on border agents from October 2009 to date.

Lethal force, said Qualia, is permitted “when an agent is imminent threat of physical violence or bodily harm that can result in death or injury to himself or a third party.”

The assessment of when to use lethal force depends on each agent, he added.

From October 1, 2009, U.S. agents have used their weapons 31 times.

“Rock attacks can be considered dangerous attacks.  They aren’t just throwing stones.”

F.B.I. spokesperson, Andrea Simmons also made statements that were later, as they said back in the Nixon Administration, inoperative.

This agent, who had the second subject detained on the ground, gave verbal commands to the remaining subjects to stop and retreat. However, the subjects surrounded the agent and continued to throw rocks at him. The agent then fired his service weapon several times, striking one subject who later died.”

Neither Simmons, nor Qualia, had any explanation of how a small 15 year old — on the other side of a river bank, behind a pillar, was a threat to the agent… or agents as the video evidence seems to indicate… who shot him in the head.

Statements given in Mexico to authorities, by boys who were throwing rocks across the river, say that Sergio Adrián never attempted to cross the river.  Despite the “spin” by Fox News, it appears this was just a good kid  fooling around, and he may have been the proverbial “innocent by-stander caught in the cross-fire”… assuming that there is any way to justify shooting into a foreign country.

El Universal

Initial U.S. reports also suggested that Mexican police crossed the river and retrieved “something”, another story that seems to have faded away (given the false statements given by authorities — either based on bad information or maliciously — any information coming from the United States officials is going to be questionable anyway), while the possibility remains the opposite — that F.B.I. agents attempted to retrieve something (perhaps the three shell casings found near Hernández’ body?) but were turned back at gunpoint by Mexican police.  While not confirmed, the action would seem perfectly reasonable.  A Mexican had just been shot by U.S. armed agents, and U.S. armed agents were attempting to enter Mexico.

Federal officials in Mexico have moved relatively rapidly.  Roberto Rodríguez, the Mexican Consul in El Paso hired attorneys to bring legal action  on behalf of the Hernández family in the United States.  The Deputy Prosecutor for northern Mexico, Alejandro Pariente, personally filed a criminal complaint, opening the way to a federal murder investigation (the death occurred on federal property, and the State of Chihuahua’s prosecutor’s are not known for their investigative skills).

It is not an unquiet ghost of Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca, so much as the unearthed — and unmentioned — restless spirits that the Calderón and Obama Administrations had kept at bay that are haunting us.

Of course, immigration issues, narcotics (anything that happens in Juárez is immediately assumed to involve narcotics) and racism.  Juan Gonzalez, at Democracy Now! attempted to drag NAFTA’s effects on rural Mexico  into a discussion of the shooting, but the interviewee (in El Paso, not Juárez) said only “I think we have several problems in Juárez. … We have the inability of the police to actually contain the violence in Juárez. At the same time, we have a very deep economic crisis where people are being pushed out of the country.”

NAFTA had something to do with social problems, and with the unease in the United States over immigration, but it’s more complex than that.  I’ve made the point several times that social dissolution seen in Juárez is extreme, but then, it has a lot to do with the city’s unique demography — half Detroit and half Deadwood.  What I mean is that it was an industrial center with good paying blue-collar jobs hit by a massive economic downturn, AND a frontier town.  Where the displaced in Detroit could try their luck elsewhere within their own country, and the middle-class could flee to suburbia, there aren’t comparable jobs elsewhere in Mexico, and suburbia is across the border.  Very few Detroiters moved to Windsor, Ontario although Detroit, as the big city in a binational urban area is something Juárez also shares with the Michigan city.  And, in the 1970s, it was “drug crimes” that gave Detroit the reputation as the most dangerous city in the country, and was the rationale used by middle-class residents for moving.

At any rate, there’s no indication that the Hernández family was from a rural background.  More germane might be the issues raised by commentators on coverage of the shooting in the U.S. “liberal” websites, like Huffington Post and, who tend to see everything in terms of how it affects the Obama Administration.  To them, the problem is either the Border Patrol in general, or the extra 1200 agents being promised to the states on the Mexican border.  I had a brief e-mail exchange last night with someone with Border Patrol ties.

The people I talked to last night tended to agree with something that had bothered me when I was living in west Texas along the border.  At that time, the Bush Adminstration was ramping up the Border Patrol and sending in soldiers as backup until more agents could be brought into the field.  The Patrol recruited heavily, and not just in the border region.  Where the older agents I knew were cowpokes and tejanos (or both), the younger guys were outsiders… new to the border and new to the culture.  Also, talking to the older and retired agents, you got the feeling that the Border Patrol was a less a military unit, and more a rural police force.  A lot of the older guys looked like old west lawmen, and the romance of the old west was one factor they’d had in originally signing up.

With more outsiders, who aren’t acculturated, and accept the border for what it is, you have to add the problem of a paramilitary organization, with is trained as such.  To a military unit, the other side is the “enemy” — and military units have only one response to enemies:  kill or be killed.

Not that there isn’t a threat to the United States.  Leaving aside the over-blown rhetoric on a theoretical “terrorist” infiltration (by kids?) and the racist idiots who “want their (white supremacist) country back” there really are a lot of narcotics coming across.  In a sense, that’s a NAFTA issue related to agriculture (alas, Juan Gonzalez didn’t make the connection), but in a larger sense, it’s a self-perpetuating rationale for militarization and whistling past the graveyard of missed opportunities to resolve social issues on both sides of the Puente Negro.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Tio Foncho permalink
    12 June 2010 12:23 am

  2. Tio Foncho permalink
    12 June 2010 12:51 am

    Richard, I am unsure why you mention reports the boy was a known smuggler are unconfirmed reports with no source given. Department of Homeland Security has confirmed he was arrested a number of times for smuggling and that he was on their list of juvinile smugglers. His family reported he was only down at the river playing with friends. That is pure unadulterated BS. He is shown on the home video standing not 10 feet from the Border Patroe agent on the US as the agent grabs another illegal alien.

    Mexicans just love to play the victim.

  3. phoenix_dacty permalink
    12 June 2010 11:01 am

    Thank you so much for writing, unbiased, fact based articles. It’s sad to see that even with facts, some people don’t believe them, and try too justify the murder of a boy, via the sensationalist right-wing media! Keep up the goodwork Mexfiles!

  4. El Nogalense permalink
    12 June 2010 3:53 pm

    Viva Richard! Thank you for this thoughtful article – amid all the confusion surrounding this heartbreaking international its important to read some something that clarifies all of this. With the hindsight of past events similar to these, I don’t foresee the U.S. offering a real apology or extraditing the B.P. officers involved in this.

  5. Tio Foncho permalink
    13 June 2010 10:43 am


  6. el_longhorn permalink
    14 June 2010 1:47 pm

    A disgusting and cowardly act by the BP agent.

  7. 19 June 2010 8:14 pm

    Thanks Richard for your usual concise reporting on this event.

    Sad that the loons are falling all over themselves to justify this murder and make the still unidentified agent into another “hero patriot” as they did with Ramos & Compean.

    One is even writing about the “long and stellar career of this decorated border agent”.

    D’uh? We don’t even know who the hell he is yet!

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