By Luis Chaparro
Crime scene investigators stand next to the body of a young man that was killed by unknown gunmen at a soccer field in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, late Sunday Jan. 23, 2011. Gunmen spraying automatic weapons fire killed seven people. The message above the entry to the field reads, "Live Better." The field was built as an anti-violence measure in the besieged border city.
A year after the massacre of 15 young people in the Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, grassroots groups on Sunday labeled the government’s plan for ending drug-related violence and promoting development in the northern border city “a failure.”
The federal government should overhaul its strategy because it does not address the extreme violence in Ciudad Juarez, located across the border from El Paso, Texas, Citizens Council for Social Development spokesman Laurencio Barraza told Efe.
The government’s “Todos Somos Juarez” program, which was implemented last February, called for carrying out 160 projects dealing with business, jobs, health, education and social development within 100 days.
The projects were designed to rebuild the border city’s society and promote co-existence among residents.
The federal government has spent 3.38 billion pesos (about $277 million) in Ciudad Juarez, with the funds mostly going toward security, education, sports, health, social development and jobs, official figures show.
As the program approaches its one-year anniversary, community groups and residents say they have not seen much progress and that most projects are only half-completed.
“The strategy has some shortcomings that require immediate repair. The programs are being prepared in Mexico City and deal with other problems, not going far enough to eradicate the violence,” Barraza said.
Ciudad Juarez needs not just infrastructure but also dialogue and an end to the control of the streets by organized crime groups, Barraza said.
“For example, what good is it to build a park when you are afraid to go outside for fear of being murdered, as has happened,” Barraza said.
Since Jan. 31, 2010, when the birthday-party massacre occurred in Villas de Salvarcar, Juarez has been the scene of several other attacks targeting young people.
Gunmen killed 15 other teenagers on Oct. 23 at a house in the border city’s Horizontes del Sur neighborhood.
Seven young men were gunned down on Jan. 23 while playing soccer at a recently inaugurated park built as part of the Todos Somos Juarez program.
The federal initiative should not be viewed as a security model “that comes to solve all of the city’s problems,” Todos Somos Juarez program coordinator Humberto Uranga said.
The commitment from the local, state and federal governments was “honest and true,” but greater public participation was needed, especially from the media, Uranga said.
Even though most of the community groups in Ciudad Juarez labeled the federal program a failure, Chihuahua state Human Rights Commissioner Gustavo De la Rosa Hickerson said doing so was tantamount to admitting defeat.
“Acknowledging that it is a failure is very difficult because it means acknowledging that we have been defeated as a society,” the commissioner said.
“The Todos Somos Juarez strategy has been a process, it is a process that is still going on,” De la Rosa said, adding that “unfortunately, it was Ciudad Juarez’s turn to be a field for experimentation and this has been very painful for the city.”
Members of more than 50 community organizations gathered Saturday on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to mark the massacre anniversary.
The demonstrators called for peace and demanded an end to the drug-related violence that has already claimed the lives of more than 140 people in the border city this year.
The community groups are staging a series of events this weekend, including two days of fasting, presentations by relatives of the massacre victims and the binational gathering at the border fence, during their “Road to Justice” campaign.