Juárez land dispute heats up, Farmers fear new development will force them out
El Paso Times
Sunday, December 25, 2005
JUAREZ -- A melee at a city council meeting in Juárez marked the beginning of what could be one of the most important land development projects in the area and a new violent chapter for the poor farmers who stand in the way.
Council members voted Thursday to greenlight "San Jerónimo," an ambitious development of more than 40,000 acres across the border from the Santa Teresa Port of Entry. The land, owned by Mexican businessman Eloy Vallina, could be home to a major manufacturing center in the future. But not far from there, a community of about 100 farming families called Lomas de Poleo, fears for its survival.
"We are just between Juárez and San Jerónimo. We are in the middle, vulnerable," said Prisciliano Dominguez, a 50-year-old resident of Lomas de Poleo. "They are going to put their communication networks and their roads through us. They are going to impose taxes. We came here to escape the pressure of taxes."
For the past three years, the community -- perched on a mesa in Northwest Juárez -- has been the scene of a brutal land dispute between residents and Juárez industrialist Pedro Zaragoza Vizcarra. Both parties claim to own the land.
Thursday, Dominguez and 80 other residents and representatives of community organizations, went to the city council meeting hoping to testify, organizers said. But another group of about 80 people who apparently supported the pro-development Mayor Hector Murguia, attacked them, witnessed said. The city council retreated behind closed doors to vote.
They also asked that the developers build a roadway connecting San Jerónimo to Juárez through Anapra by the end of next year. City officials said the project would benefit Juárez by generating 39,500 jobs in the next 10 years and would provide an alternative route for the railroad that cuts through the congested center of town.
Vallina has been on the board of directors of Verde Group, which is developing land in Santa Teresa.
Community groups and residents said they wanted to be consulted on the project and wanted to clarify the ownership of Lomas de Poleo once and for all.
Residents have occupied the land since 1976, they said, after obtaining plots from the federal government. Three years ago, when talks of industrial development floated in the region, residents started getting harassed by groups of young men reportedly hired by Zaragoza, they said. One resident died in August in a fight with the young men.
Louie Gilot may be reached at email@example.com, 546-6131.