Monday, March 26, 2012
Optimism may trump Perceived Risk in Ciudad Juarez
More than four years after a so-called narco war
exploded and then devastated Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, a different atmosphere is perceptible on the streets of the
border city. While still very high by historic standards, the rate of murders is way down from the height of the killings
two years ago.
Some restaurants are doing a brisk business, and locals
are reviving the once-famed night life in the Avenida Juarez and Pronaf districts. Smiles come quicker and last longer.
Hunkered down for weeks in city hotels in order to avoid assassination squads, municipal police were permitted this
week to go home after their shifts ended.
And perhaps in a sign of the times, an old building that long housed
a restaurant on the corner of Avenida Juarez and 16 de Septiembre in downtown Juarez but shuttered its doors as violence reached
a fever pitch and the economy crumbled is stirring to life. A renovation of the building's interior is underway while
signs plastered on the windows solicit new restaurant workers.
"We note that people feel a little more secure,"
said Ana Fierro, the coordinator of a new citizen initiative dedicated to training Ciudad Juarez's future leaders. "People
are going about their routine business -- restaurants, kids' activities...."
Cautious optimism might
define the popular mood in Ciudad Juarez in the spring of 2012.
At the federal level, the Calderon administration
is claiming important successes in Ciudad Juarez. In the aftermath of the public outcry over the slaughter of 15 young people
at a house party in the Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood back in January 2010, the Calderon government rolled out its "Todos
Somos Juarez" program directed at a city on the brink. Since the massacre, different federal agencies have spent millions
of dollars on hundreds of temporary jobs, constructing libraries and other facilities, rehabilitating parks and public spaces,
and enrolling low-income residents in the government's universal health care program.
In the run-up to the
March 30 election campaign ban on government publicizing of public works, the Calderon administration saturated Mexican electronic
media with spots on the Felipe Angeles Community Center. Built across the Rio Grande from El Paso's old Asarco smelter,
the new center sponsored recreational and educational programs as part of a broader community intervention strategy. The Calderon
administration recently claimed that violence had dropped dramatically in the Felipe Angeles neighborhood, plummeting from
112 murders in 2010 to 12 in 2011.
Authored by local journalist Julian Cardona, an article posted on New Mexico
State University librarian Molly Molloy's Frontera list calculated that 10,185 people were murdered in the municipality
of Ciudad Juarez from 2008 to 2011. Molloy estimated another 216 victims were slain between January 1 and the first four days
of March of this year.
If the current murder rate holds, the level of homicide will dip below 2008 numbers by
the end of 2012. On many recent days, more people have been murdered in Monterrey, Chihuahua City or Acapulco than in Ciudad
Juarez, once considered the most dangerous place in Mexico and perhaps even the world.
But according to one knowledgeable
source who preferred to remain anonymous, the decline in local violence is linked to the emergence of the group around fugitive
drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman as the dominant force in Ciudad Juarez, while rivals associated with the old
Juarez cartel lick their wounds, reorganize and contemplate their next moves. Sporadic violence could be part of a mopping-up
"It got cleaned out," the source said of the logic and outcome of underworld business competition
in Ciudad Juarez. "It had to ... you tear it down and build a new structure."
Across the border in El
Paso, Miguel Gomez presides over the board of La Red, an organization currently consisting of 40-60 Mexican business people
who began relocating to the U.S. when the violence heated up a few years back. The new wave of immigrants transformed the
landscape of El Paso. On the west and east sides of the sprawling city, many businesses with a historic Juarez presence suddenly
opened their doors to U.S. customers and dollars.
Founded in 2010, La Red was formed as a personal support and
professional advancement network for entrepreneurs fleeing the killing, kidnapping and extorting that ripped their city apart.
La Red's members hailed from the smaller business class that bore the brunt of the violence, Gomez told Frontera NorteSur
in a phone interview.
More recently, however, the relocation trend has dissipated. "It has slowed. We have
seen less people coming over since things have pretty much started to improve on the other side," Gomez said.
Police corruption and the collapse of the rule of law were central elements of Ciudad Juarez's crisis. Numerous members
of security forces -- local, state and federal -- were implicated in criminal activities and human rights abuses that included
robbery, kidnapping, extortion, torture, rape and murder. Former Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz (2007-2010) announced a purging of
the local police, which continued under the subsequent municipal administration of Hector "Teto" Murguia and his
controversial police chief, former military man Lt. Col. Julian Leyzaola.
Residents and close observers have mixed
opinions about the current state of public safety, law enforcement and criminal justice.
a risk over there," Gomez said. "The perceived risk is smaller than before, probably because less violent acts are
happening than before."
Gomez contended that there have been improvements in municipal and state law enforcement,
pointing to the detentions of multiple bands of kidnappers as well as a Chihuahua state law that now slaps kidnappers and
extortionists with life sentences.
Ana Fierro, coordinator of the Leaders Network, said the citizenry has "more
confidence" in the local cops but matters of corruption still need to be addressed.
Elizabeth Flores, director
of Pastoral Obrera, the Roman Catholic Church's social and labor advocacy arm, offered a critical assessment of the public
safety question. "There are less murders but this isn't related to the improvement of security," Flores said
in an interview. "We don't know if it's just that the cartels aren't disputing the plaza or if the police
are improving. There are no investigations to tell us that."
What's more, no significant advances are
evident in bringing the murderers of thousands of people to justice, or shedding light on the slayings and disappearances
of young women, including the dozens of unidentified female bodies stacked up in the local morgue, Flores argued.
Serious crimes like carjacking and extortion remain problems, she said, while unemployment haunts the city. The veteran
community activist insisted that "all the crimes have to go down," but the public is in the dark about crime rate
tendencies other than murder. Meanwhile, illegal drug use and addiction are on the rise, Flores said.
conflicting signals abound. The maquiladora industry trade journal Juarez-El Paso Now reported in its current edition
that the export manufacturing sector added 7,207 jobs in the first month of the year, while the daily Norte quoted
Maquiladora Association President Jose Luis Armendariz as saying that another 20,000 factory jobs could be added by the end
On the other hand, El Diario newspaper reported last
week that the key construction industry remains sunk in its worst crisis in decades, while some hotels could close in the
coming months if tourism continues on the skids.
La Red's Miguel Gomez said members of his organization will
have to make personal decisions whether to return or reinvest in Ciudad Juarez. Each situation is different, he said.
"I'm a capitalist. As a capitalist, if I have an opportunity to set up a business in a place and it's
profitable I'll stay here," Gomez said of the motivations driving members' decisions.
and business will be the focus of a La Red event scheduled for early in the evening of April 13 at El Paso's Hilton Garden
Inn, he added.
As Ciudad Juarez climbs its way out of a long crisis, different actors are positioning themselves
for the city's future.
Based out of the Human Leadership Center in Ciudad Juarez, the Leaders Network is cultivating
the next generation of the city's movers and shakers. According to Fierro, the goal is to link at least 40 existing non-governmental
organizations working on education, poverty and other issues with each other, the public and government officials to address
problems in a comprehensive manner.
Among others, the initiative is endorsed by businesses including Auto Value,
Grupo Intelia and Grupo Summa, as well as the Pact for Juarez, a good government proposal affiliated with the Juarez Strategic
With only about one in ten residents presently participating in organized community and civic activities,
an urgent need exists to greatly increase public engagement, Fierro said.
"We think that civil society, not
government or the authorities, will transform Juarez," she maintained.
Kent Paterson is the editor of Frontera NorteSur. Reprinted with authorization from Frontera NorteSur, a free, on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news source.
Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico