Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mexico hopes $270 million in social spending will help end Juarez drug violence

By Nick Miroff


CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO -- At night in this border city, radio newscasts give a rundown of the day's homicides -- 15 one day, 12 the next -- a segment as regular as weather or sports. At least 291 people were killed last month, and more than 1,786 so far this year.

The runaway drug violence has brought 10,000 soldiers and federal police officers to Juarez, but the influx has not resulted in security or a decline in the death toll. That has forced Mexican leaders and their U.S. advisers to search for a new strategy to stop the killing in a city that once seemed like a model for U.S.-Mexico economic integration.

"We have to repair the social fabric here," said Abelardo Escobar, a cabinet member sent by Mexican President Felipe Calderón with a new rescue package for Juarez, a $270 million surge in social spending.

The money is paying for schools, hospital renovations, student breakfasts, a youth orchestra, anti-violence training and drug treatment centers. There are funds to promote physical fitness, build eco-friendly houses and support free concerts -- 160 projects in all.

The government calls the campaign "Todos Somos Juárez" -- "We are all Juarez."

"We need to build trust and a sense of belonging," Escobar said. "We need to give people hope again."

The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement brought hundreds of thousands of migrants to Juarez, touted as a place where American industry and Mexican workers could meet halfway. Jobs were so plentiful that assembly plants sent buses to the poorest parts of southern Mexico to find recruits, promising a cash bonus to anyone willing to get on board.

The Mexican government laid tracts of inexpensive housing in the desert, but built few schools, parks or libraries for the new arrivals and their families. Today, in the city's northwest slums, there is one high school for 400,000 residents.

Escobar and others here say years of government neglect has produced a civic experiment gone awry, allowing organized crime to fill a moral and social vacuum in a place of rootless newcomers and frayed family structures.

Parts of Juarez, a city of 1.3 million, still convey the sense of almost-America it once promised. But just off the wide boulevards lined with Starbucks, Applebee's and strip malls, masked soldiers and federal police patrol the city's dusty, treeless streets, riding in the backs of Ford Lobo pickup trucks with automatic weapons and body armor.
Few believe the Todos Somos Juárez campaign can turn the city around anytime soon.

The Juarez and Sinaloa cartels are fighting each other for control of drug smuggling routes into the United States, and both are battling Mexican authorities. Last year, 2,754 people were killed in the city, and 2010 is on pace to be the deadliest year yet. Ninety-eight percent of murders go unsolved.


U.S. officials have pledged more aid for community and social development as part of the $1.6 billion anti-narcotics Merida Initiative. But the violence in Juarez is so bad that the large U.S. Consulate here has been shut since July 29, after a car bombing downtown two weeks earlier was followed by threats of more attacks.

Six months have passed since Calderón came to the city to announce the Todos Somos Juárez campaign, after gunmen massacred 14 people at a birthday party in a neighborhood of factory workers on the city's southeastern edge. Most of the dead were junior high and high school students.

Todos Somos Juárez is building a sports park there. It has helped Alonzo Encina get counseling after his 17-year-old son, an honors student, was slain that night.

But Encina was laid off this spring from the factory where he made car radiators, and he now sells posters of Mexican saints and wrestlers from the back of his pickup truck. "I live day to day," he said. "I feel half-dead. I'm trying to go on."

'Lost generation'

From his office, Juarez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz has a sweeping view of El Paso and the border crossings that feed into it. The two cities are split by tall fences and the cement-lined channel of the Rio Grande.

In El Paso, there has been one homicide so far this year.

In Juarez, someone is slain every three hours.

"Juarez is a tremendous city of opportunity," said Reyes Ferriz, ticking off the city's industrial output: auto parts, dishwashers, televisions, computers. "We have more manufacturing jobs than Detroit and Atlanta combined."

The violence hasn't soured investors on Juarez, the mayor insisted.

Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer that makes iPhones, Sony PlayStations, Dell computers and other Best Buy merchandise, has hired 10,000 employees in the city and plans to take on 70,000 more, he said.

When the global recession pushed Juarez's unemployment rate to 20 percent in 2008, the murder rate soared, the mayor said.

Many of the city's gang members and gunmen are the children of factory workers, he and others said, a "lost generation" that grew up in the streets while their parents were making car batteries and keyboards. A cartel foot soldier can make $160 a week carrying out assassinations, kidnappings and beheadings.

Assembly plant workers make about $60 a week, so Todos Somos Juárez will give them better child care, recreation opportunities and job training. More than 120,000 have already signed up for the city's new health-care plan.

But the raft of promises seem to be outpacing the government's ability to deliver.

On a recent afternoon, Daisy Campos, 22, stood with her 3-year-old daughter outside a downtown health clinic, deflecting the desert sun with a yellow umbrella topped with cat ears. She was glad to have insurance, but the wait to see a nurse was two, maybe three hours.

A day earlier, Campos quit her job at a fruit market after a group of men executed two of her co-workers, shooting one in the face right in front of her. "I don't want to live here anymore," Campos said. Her father is in Tennessee. Maybe she will go there, she said.
A promise pending

Todos Somos Juárez has pledged to build a high school in the trash-strewn hills on the city's western edge, among the scrap-wood shacks and creosote bush. It would be the neighborhood's first. Local officials laid the cornerstone several months ago and paved the street right up to the empty lot. But no one from the government has been back since, said José Luis Contreras, 26, who lives across the street and would like to go to school, if it's not too late for him.

Contreras and his 80-year-old grandmother run a small store. Three months ago, thieves put a gun to her head and stole everything off the shelves.

"Maybe it was just lies," Contreras said of the government's plan, watching dust swirl over the empty school site.

On the radio that night, the state governor called the Juarez program an election gimmick of his political rival, President Calderón's National Action Party.

No one is sure what will happen when the $270 million runs out.

Arturo Valenzuela, a trauma surgeon who stitches up the city's wounded -- killers and victims alike -- said the program should be expanded, and made permanent.

"I think Juarez is the most important city in the world right now," said Valenzuela, a community adviser to Todos Somos Juárez. "This is the place to see where our whole human endeavor is going. If we can fix it, we can fix any other place in Mexico."


  1. The guy who announces a public spending fund by the government is named Escobar?


    Oh that tickles me in a way that if Loretta tickled me I would say "oh...that's nice".

    270 million is about 1/6 with the Cartels pay to cops every year. Sounds like a real winner of an idea.

    Enjoy the money when you steal it, whoever steals it!

  2. If There are 10,000 Fed police and military in Juarez are they doing anything other than guarding crime scenes,and attempting to innovate methods of profit themselves. Typical MX all show no sustance.

  3. Regarding the lack of substance, can we at least give them the benefit of the doubt?

  4. Most of the money will be stolen as usual.It's Mexico.

  5. I wonder how much of the US taxpayers money (Merida Initiative) is ending in the fat pockets of the corrupt Mexican politicians instead of to support the war against the drug lords.
    I am asking because some Mexican cops are complaining that they have to purchase their own weapons, bullets and bullet-proof vests and some Mexican soldiers have denounced that they have to eat dried noodles every day because they did not get paid enough...

  6. The corruption in Mexico and the United States of America is only a symptom. Violence only breeds more violence. Another way to look at it is evil breeds more evil. A third world country living next door to the worlds greatest at this time. What do we expect. We cannot control our borders, our culture cannot distinguish between black and white. Everything is now grey. The historical perspective is very insightful. The madness caused by humans will not be fixed by humans. It is time for intervention from the Creator of our Universe.

  7. Man get out of here with that nonsense Lloyd, mankind are existential beings, WE as individuals are responsible for ourselves. It is a lack of individual responsibility and a society that accepted and reveled in the corruption so rampant throughout Mexico that created this monster. There is no Creator, look around you if there was do you think he would let shit get this bad. Uneducated societies with restricted gun ownership by the citizenship breeds this kind of animalistic behavior.

  8. Hey Richard, I wouldn't be so quick to discount Lloyd and the Creator aspect. The man makes alot of sense actually without sounding like a "Bible-thumper".

    And I also agree with you about us being existential beings, but why couldn't that have come from a Creator? The world is choke full of dualities, why can't this be the greatest one of them all?I apologize I'm getting off-topic, but you both brought up good points.

    So yeah, it looks like we are heading towards the singularity people!! Let's see if our "Humanity" can push us through.

  9. Anonymous 5:53 pm...You seem to think the Merida Initiative just drops billions of dollars worth of cash into whosoever hands seem to grab it first.

    Last report I saw, there was an estimated 9% of the aid delivered over the last 2 years, mostly in the form of helicopters and armored vehicles.

    It's sad to see everyone complaining about the Mexican drug war 'spilling over' the border, yet any efforts made go unrecognized.

    Damned if they do, Damned if they don't.

  10. To follow up after Overmex...

    After a little light research you'll discover that, The Merida Initiative requires that most of the purchase of whirley-birds, fixed-wing planes, software, training and other equipment ( weapons) be from American defense contractors., really, this is a jobs bill for Americans.

    BUT THAT'S ALRIGHT!!! As long as the US gets what it needs for the money, and the Mexicans get what US needs for them to get (to continue exterminating the rats), isn't that what its all about?

    Por La Polular en
    Heroica Matamoros.

  11. Anonymous (11:18) so you are saying that Merida Initiative is only another scheme to channel more of taxpayer monies for the fat pockets of Bush' corporate friends? The same way as in the war against Iraq, Afghanistan, the border wall, homeland security, etc...
    The point is that we were told that this initiative was about supporting Mexico's efforts against narcodrug violence. If is our money, we should at lease know the real purpose of this Merida Initiative.
    Besides, I don't want my tax dollars being use to kill innocent children and women.

  12. @anonymous 8:44 a.m.

    Although your question wasn't directed to me, I'd like to add some input.

    The Merida Initiative is set to support Mexico's efforts in the war against drugs, but what should not be confused is how it is set.

    The U.S. is not simply sending cash south of the border. The funds which were established are to be paid in equipment, training, software, etc.

    This equipment (armored vehicles, x-ray vans, helicopters, computer servers, biometric equipment, ballistic tracing equipment, bullet proof vests, etc) and training (anti-kidnapping/hostage, human rights, canine unit training, prosecutors training in advocacy, human trafficking, extradition,etc) is provided by the U.S., priced by the U.S., and paid for by the U.S. under the Merida Initiative.

    Are 'Bush's corporate friends'making money off of it? Who knows (of all probability someone is, after all, there's money to be made and business in all war), but the funding, or “contribución en especie”, provided by the initiative (regardless of everything and anything else) ARE needed in Mexico.

    To learn more about the Initiative in detail, please see the U.S. GAO report:

  13. I'm sorry Lloyd, I almost missed your comment, but thank God I didn't. I couldn't stop laughing at "evil breeds more evil." I'm not sure if you were serious or not, because frankly, that was either a joke or pure ignorance.

    For the record, criminal behavior and for that matter any kind of behavior is learned (or enabled in some cases), you can't breed criminals. That's not how it works and I'm very sorry to disappoint you and your breeding metaphors.

    Hmm, I wonder if ignorance breeds ingnorance.

  14. Ouch! I never realized that I could offend so quickly from my first post. Valentina, I read that you do accept that it was a metaphor, so what gives. You obviously knew what I meant. Don't bog down on the misapplication of the word so much. I would like to point out that your statement "..any kind of behavior is learned" will certainly be contrary to the opinions of homosexuals. Lighten up. Yesterday afternoon, I rode my bicycle across the river (I meant the bridge) from my base in downtown Brownsville, TX to Matamoros. Weekly cabrito run for the best. I ride a KLR usually, but when the head gasket blew riding through China, N.L. last June, the bike had to be dumped. What the heck, I put 24K miles on it riding all over Mexico on dirt as much as possible. Before that, I had just sold my '97 Powerstroke after 350K miles through that great land. I might not have the technical training you are presently receiving, but with my extensive business experience in Mexico, since 1977, I have a knowledge that only comes from experience. Additionally, I also have first hand knowledge about evil breeding evil in another theatre. I am an immgrant from Burma. The military regime since the 50's may not be procreating as you might think, but they are none the less breeding. I invite you to join me on a trip to Mexico. I'll give you first hand knowledge no textbook can provide.


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