By Adriana Gómez Licón
El Paso Times
El Paso -- Juárez will soon be the object of a U.S. marketing campaign to channel money to the violence-torn city.
The Paso del Norte Group is registering a logo and the slogan "Amor por Juárez" (Love for Juárez) as two important parts of the effort. Juárez's city government granted it the rights for a campaign loosely patterned after a promotional effort that helped New York City rebound from economic chaos.
The logo already appears on bumper stickers across El Paso. It is a right hand making a peace sign and holding a heart.
"Amor por Juárez" merchandise will go on sale as soon as July at a shop at Mesa Street and Mills Avenue in Downtown El Paso.
"This will be a campaign, not a single week," said David Buchmueller, the Paso del Norte Group's chief operating officer. "The problem is not going to go away. People are seeing this as a long-term commitment."
Juárez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz compared "Amor por Juárez" with the "I love New York" campaign dating to the 1970s. New York then was on the brink of financial collapse.
The borderland campaign is tied to a different problem -- a drug war that has turned Juárez into the murder capital of the world.
In 2008, two drug cartels began fighting for border turf, and the murder rate exploded. Juá rez had 2,643 homicides last year. El Paso had 13.
Reyes Ferriz said the "Amor por Juárez" campaign was devised to promote civic values and give residents something positive to think about.
It started in May 2009, after thousands of Mexican soldiers arrived and murders in Juárez briefly abated, going from about nine daily to two a day.
" 'Amor por Juárez' became a good way to show what we feel for our city," the mayor said.
But the violence escalated again in the summer. August was Juárez's worst month with a staggering 315 murders.
Even so, Reyes Ferriz said, the promotional campaign went on and its popularity rose. Several shops in Juárez began selling merchandise.
"Our intention was not for the program to be government-run, but for the society to use it to show affection," he said.
The business group in El Paso became interested in November 2009. Leaders of the Paso del Norte Group eventually met with Reyes Ferriz and Sergio Belmonte, the Juárez city employee who designed the logo.
The Paso del Norte Group asked for the rights to use the phrase and logo to sell products. Proceeds will go to Juárez organizations that help schools and hospitals.
"What was surprising is that nobody else had done anything with the logo," Buchmueller said.
Reyes Ferriz approved the proposal and gave the group a sealed letter. Violence continued, notably the killings of two U.S. citizens with ties to the U.S. consulate.
This motivated high-level politicians to talk about Juárez. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Mexico City to discuss social development.
After that, the U.S. State Department, through its Agency of International Development, granted $1.53 million to the Paso del Norte Group to become the leaders of the fund-raising project for Juárez.
The money is part of the second phase of the Merida Initiative, which the United States launched in 2007 and which provided $1.3 billion to help Mexico combat organized crime.
One of its many plans to assist social development and economic growth is the "Amor por Juárez" campaign. The Agency of International Development will fund the campaign at least until the end of 2013.
Paso del Norte Group applied for the logo's registration so that it is protected by law and no other businesses on the U.S. side can use it. In Mexico, anybody can use the logo.
Buchmueller said he did not know how much of the $1.53 million would go toward the campaign.
"It's just a startup cause," he said.
"We've got the store. We are looking at having events in September, but it is still in the planning phases."
The Paso del Norte Group envisions a weeklong series of concerts in El Paso, Juárez and Las Cruces.
River Oaks Properties, a real estate company, will provide the Downtown El Paso storefront to the business group at no cost, Buchmueller said.
"Our hope is people all over the country will understand how important it is to avoid the creation of a lost generation in Mexico," Buchmueller said.
He talked about Mexican children who joined gangs at 13 or 14, embarking on a life of crime.
"We have a dropout problem here in this country," Buchmueller said.
"Over there, they have a problem where they can't get the kids into the schools."
Reyes Ferriz said the campaign, if nothing else, will raise awareness.
"The reality is people all over the world today hold a special feeling for Ciudad Juárez. They are eager to see change," he said.