El aso Times
Valle de Juarez, Chihuahua - José Morales says he knows his options are to get out or die.
Morales, 47, is one of thousands of people living in fear in the Valley of Juárez.
Some residents are trapped in the small colonias because they do not have the money to relocate or the documents to enter the United States. They have been left behind to run stores or sell goods while the economy crumbles around them and drug-cartel violence claims more lives.
Some, like Morales, have chosen not to leave.
He said he sent his wife and son to stay with relatives in the U.S., but he has remained in the colonia of El Porvenir to protect the 60-year-old hardware store started by his grandparents.
El Porvenir is about 40 miles east of Juárez in a sparsely populated part of Mexico. Fewer than 18,000 people live in the low-income communities between El Porvenir and Juárez, but the area has become a place of rampant death threats and murders.
In March, more than 50 people died violently in the Valley of Juárez. About 180 homicides occurred in Juárez during that time.
Morales said it has become increasingly difficult to run his store, La Ferreteria Y Carpinteria, because about half of his customers have fled the town. Across the border from the valley are Texas towns stretching from San Elizario to Fort Hancock.
Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West recently said that Mexicans crossing into the U.S. were abandoning El Porvenir because criminal organizations had posted notices near the center of the colonia, ordering the residents to get out. The notices said people had 30 days to vacate or their families would be kidnapped or killed.
Mostly the poor have stayed behind. Fear is the steady companion of those left in El Porvenir, Morales said.
"Here, all the people are scared," he said.
Many businesses in the communities that straddle the Juárez-Porvenir highway have closed.
In Guadalupe, a colonia midway between El Porvenir and Juárez, Jorge Perez, 19, works for Computadoras Joma, a computer repair shop on the main street. Perez said he continues to live in Guadalupe because his choices are to be afraid at home or be afraid elsewhere.
"It's the same wherever you go," he said.
Perez said Guadalupe, much like many other colonias along the Juárez-Porvenir highway, shuts down about 6 p.m. Around sunset, he said, people barricade themselves in their homes and hope that they won't be victimized overnight.
Once the sun rises, the once lively area looks abandoned, he said.
Vendors who sell food along the Juárez-Porvenir highway say it is common to see vehicles headed toward Juárez with furniture piled high on top of them.
They say they have watched their profits diminish amid the slow exodus of migrants looking for security in an insecure country.
This feeling is fueled by crime, such as a murder wave during the past two weeks in the Valley of Juárez.
March 25, gunmen killed two men in the community of Praxedis Guerrero. One was shot more than 40 times at a cell-phone shop.
On March 28, the bodies of four men and one woman were found on a dirt road off the Juárez-Porvenir highway, and the body of a man was found on a soccer field in the colonia of El Sauzal. He had been stabbed many times.
Another body was found Tuesday in the El Porvenir cemetery.
Perez said he would like to see more police or soldiers in the Valley of Juárez.
"Some days they're patrolling the downtown area, and some days they don't care at all," he said.
Mexican law enforcement officials monitor traffic and inspect vehicles at checkpoints on the Juárez-Porvenir highway. Some residents, though, say sending additional police or soldiers into the valley to establish more checkpoints or to increase patrols would not make a difference.
Vincente Mendez, 40, said he has watched an influx of law enforcement in the valley since he was a child living on the outskirts of Juárez. He has also seen his share of dead bodies as an adult in El Sauzal, where he rents a small piece of land.
"I expect the cartels to win (Juárez) because the money is in the drugs," Mendez said.
The cartels' presence in the valley has strengthened in the past three years, he said, and the government cannot control them. The economy, he said, has been crumbling due to the absence of tourists. This feeds desperation and abets drug dealers, he said.
"Part of the people who don't have the money end up working for the cartels," he said. "It forces the problem to grow bigger."
It is a problem that may not be resolved in time to save the communities from becoming completely corrupt, Mendez said.
"Many of the people who live in the communities on the border don't have hope," he said.
Some of them go to work as lookouts for criminal organizations. They stand on street corners to watch for people who should not be in the area, then feed the information to their employers.
Their presence is increasing, Mendez said, and so are murders, death threats, bodies left in the street and drug smugglers demanding that people leave their homes. Some of those tactics are specifically geared to push the people out of the Valley of Juárez, he said.
"It's true," he said. "They don't want us here."
Mendez said he would move to a different state in Mexico if he believed it was too dangerous to remain in El Sauzal. Mexico, despite its problems, is the only country worth living in, Mendez said.
"In Mexico, the life is easier here than it is in America," he said. "There's no other country like Mexico. It's better. It has liberties."
In El Porvenir, Morales said his plan is to migrate north if the violence continues.
"I will try to cross the border to America," he said.