The graffiti-abatement staff in Nogales, Sonora, works fast - apparently a little too fast.
In recent days, it responded to a citizen complaint about graffiti in an area a few blocks south of the border downtown, but they ended up painting over a 16-year-old mural by well-known local artist Alberto Morackis.
Morackis, who died in 2008, painted the mural, known informally as "La Serpiente," in 1996. It was painted on a wall on a steep hillside about three blocks south of the border, a block west of the main drag, Avenida Obregón.
Morackis was a pioneering artist in Nogales, Sonora, having started the Taller Yonke (Junk Workshop) with Guadalupe Serrano.
The two became known for putting up artwork along the border fence, and they displayed some of this work at the University of Arizona.
"Alberto was really the force behind the mural movement in Nogales, Sonora," said UA art professor Alfred Quiroz, who collaborated with Morackis in a 2007 project along the border fence.
Ignacio Riestra, director of Nogales' "Urban Image" office, told the local newspaper El Diario de Sonora that he asks his employees to respond to citizen complaints within three hours.
"The truth is it was a mistake, from us trying to respond to the community," Riestra told El Diario.
It's unclear whether the complaint was about the mural itself or something nearby.
Serrano said the mural, formally titled "México Opuesto" (Mexico in Opposition), showed the snake in the claws of an eagle featured in Mexico's national symbol. But the snake is seen from below, and only the claws of the eagle are visible, Serrano said.
The director of Nogales' art museum, Juan Amparano Gámez, told El Imparcial newspaper, "It's a piece that screams of identity, justice, democracy and many other things that are always in play in the identity of the U.S. border area."
Members of the Taller Yonke pledged to repaint the mural, and Mayor Ramón Guzmán said he supports the effort.
Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or firstname.lastname@example.org