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

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Can Mexico be Saved?

Washington Street Journal

The mayor of Juárez—the border town at the center of the drug wars—says he's not getting enough help from his capital, or Washington either.

Cuidad Juárez, Mexico

'I can't imagine how the U.S. can be so worried about Iraq and Pakistan while we don't sense that it is worried about the border here. We are together whether we like it or not."

So says Hector "Teto" Murguia, the mayor of this city that is plagued by drug-war disorder. In the 35 months since Mexican President Felipe Calderón launched his war against his country's drug cartels, more than 7,100 people have been killed in this border city. Over 2,700 have died since January—in other words, the rate of the killing has increased.

Carjacking, kidnapping and extortion are rampant. Going out to work, school, or a restaurant or even to visit friends has become a risky proposition. Recently, a 20-year-old mother who attends college in Juárez became chief of police in a nearby town of 9,000 because no one else would take the job. Many Americans who used to pop over the border for dining or entertainment have curtailed their visits. Hundreds of thousands of juarenes have fled, some just over the Rio Grande to El Paso, Texas, others to the interior of Mexico.

But the 57-year-old Mr. Murguia is staying. Even before he took office on Oct. 10, a welcoming committee was already at work: In the week before he won the election, a headless body was dropped on the road near his home.

So what's his plan to retake the city for law-abiding Mexicans? I have come here from El Paso, with an armed escort, to find out. As the SUV I'm riding in turns down his street, I note a new two-story shopping mall on the corner. It is completely vacant, a metaphor for a once-promising metropolis laid low by violence and fear.

A tall metal sculpture of Don Quixote decorates Mr. Murguia's foyer. As I enter his home office, the first thing I ask is why he ran for this job. He says that his party asked him to run again (he was mayor from 2004 to 2007), and he felt an obligation to the community.

Cleaning up the mess here will require the proper diagnosis, and I ask the mayor to share his. "If you have the biggest consumer of drugs just beside your [border] and you have a lot of people here who have no opportunity, you have the culture for insecurity," he tells me. But the mayor doesn't dwell on what he cannot change. Instead he zeroes in on Mexico. "The real causes that are generating the insecurity in Juárez and all over Mexico are lack of opportunity, lack of education, lack of [necessities], impunity, lack of justice. It is a mixture of a lot of problems where we Mexicans haven't done our homework," he says.

"People who think they are going to fix [the problem] with policemen and arms are completely crazy." Instead, he wants to see Mexico "make the changes in the fiscal policies to encourage investments that create jobs."

To capture the desperation of Mexico's young, the mayor-elect shares an anecdote: "Last week, at a gas station here, I met an 18-year-old. He told me 'Teto, you politicians don't know anything. You don't understand that without hope we have no future. We prefer to die in one year standing up than living all our lives on our knees.'" Summing it up, Mr. Murguia says, "When people lose hope they will do anything [to improve their circumstances]."

By Mr. Murguia's measure, Juárez was a place of hope not so long ago. "Juárez for 40 years, from 1965-2005, was the city that generated the most jobs per capita in all of Mexico. And those jobs were not only for juarenses," he says proudly. "People came from Oaxaca, Zacatecas, Veracruz because they couldn't find jobs in their own city. Some of them tried to cross the river but a lot of them found a job in Juárez."

What went wrong? The mayor-elect blames Mexico's revenue sharing model. "The investment that the federal and state government makes in Juárez does not correspond to what the city sends in federal taxes." He complains that though the city created jobs for the nation, investments in "public services, streets, schools, parks, community centers and health-care centers haven't corresponded to the job growth. We were forgotten." He wants the federal government and the state "to return to Juárez what they owe us."

Of course economic development is unlikely when investors are having their throats slit. When I raise that issue and the issue of corruption, Mr. Murguia says that part of what Juárez is owed is resources for law enforcement. He says that when he first took office as mayor in 2004 there were only 1,000 police for the entire city. He raised that number to 1,600 and increased police salaries by more than 50%. But he says that is far from what is needed.

"Experts in crime prevention say Juárez needs 7,000 police. Yet even if I had used the entire budget I couldn't even have hired 3,000. We couldn't give them scholarships for their kids and they didn't have housing. I visited some of them at their homes and saw the dirt floors. . . . We ask our police to give their lives for us and we don't have enough money to pay them properly."

A complicating factor is that Mr. Murguia's political adversaries have accused him of having ties to drug traffickers, since a high-ranking member of his police department during his last term was busted. When I raise this, the mayor-elect is ready and rattles off his former subordinate's resume as a pillar of society and business. "And let me tell you something else," he adds. "During the six months he worked for me he received two recognitions from U.S. authorities." In other words, this official did not have the socioeconomic profile of a cop on the beat, which suggests that higher salaries alone don't prevent corruption.

Nevertheless, Mr. Murguia says that what Juárez needs is more resources—"money, intelligence and cooperation"—from Mexico City. He also complains that the U.S. aid program for fighting the cartels, known as Plan Merida, has so far provided "nothing" to his city.

Isn't that a problem to take up with the Mexican government and Mr. Calderón? "But it's 2,000 kilometers from here," he exclaims. El Paso, on the other hand, is just across the river, so Washington should convince Mr. Calderón to help Juárez. "If the Mexican institutions—the federal police, the army, the federal government, and the municipal and state governments—fail Juárez," he warns, "everybody is going to fail. What can a small powerless mayor of Juárez do if President Calderón doesn't provide the support?"

Mr. Murguia says his city is demoralized. It no longer has just an organized crime problem, but widespread chaos. "Copy cats" and youngsters have learned to take advantage of the general breakdown of law and order. "For kids, 15 or 17 years old, when there is a lot of impunity, it is very easy for them to extort a business. But this is not organized crime." Mr. Murguia draws a distinction between the two and says, "If we can solve the extortions and kidnappings, Juárez will begin to [improve] slowly." Hence his emphasis on social services, investment and strengthening of the police.

Mexican politicians are notorious for anti-American rhetoric, but Mr. Murguia displays no such prejudice with me. Still, he doesn't shy away from the unpleasant reality of American drug use and marijuana-growing. When I ask him about legalizing marijuana, he launches into a favorite Mexican jeremiad: "How do you explain to a guy here who is in jail because he was caught carrying two kilos of marijuana that California is producing 10,000 kilograms per day in just one [facility]? How do you explain that [the Mexican] loses his liberty while Californians produce? It's hard to explain that to the people who are in jail here. Fair? It is not fair."

Is he saying, I ask, that there is a perception in Mexico that marijuana is already legal in the United States? "Yes, oh yes," he tells me. He makes clear that he thinks the stuff is bad for you, but he says that any move to legalize it must be done on both sides of the border—and all over the world. "Otherwise you will get Hell's Kitchen here in Mexico."

I press him on that point, asking whether legalization, on both sides of the border, would stop the bloodshed and disintegration of the state. If you want to end the violence and corruption it creates, he says, you only need to turn the business over to governments. He says that he could then deal with the extortion and kidnapping epidemics separately.

I ask Mr. Murguia whether he thinks winning in Juárez will mean no more drugs will go into the U.S. "I don't think so," he says. So you are fighting a problem and risking your life, and if you win you won't solve the problem?

He repeats his doubts, but for him that's beside the point. "I'm not going to get philosophical," he says. "The only thing I want to do is get my city calm."


  1. Come on Mary. You can do better than that. What a rehash of the same old complaints/excuses. Teto is bought and paid for - everybody knows it.

    Why don't you interview somebody that knows something. Like the editor of La Polaka or the 20 yr old gal who just became a police chief. I'm very disappointed because I always liked Mary's column. Until now. Teto Murguia, what a waste of time.


  2. Tell them about anonymous tips, including the kids on the streets. Tell them to watch and make notes, and when they know who the real crooks and thugs are to turn them in -- anonymously.
    To be taken seriously though they need to describe their patterns and contacts. And of course they'll want to do that for money -- which is risky, perhaps to risky for the health of family. Best to be anonymous.

  3. This open letter to "cartel Boss" really moved me, if you care about Mx it will move you also..

  4. The mayor is right!

    "People who think they are going to fix [the problem] with policemen and arms are completely crazy." Instead, he wants to see Mexico "make the changes in the fiscal policies to encourage investments that create jobs."

    Militarizing Mexico is not going to solve anything and in fact has already done great harm. War is the only policy Washington D.C. promotes almost everywhere around the globe. It's just pure stupidity and US citizens and Mexican citizens alike who call for a strong arm policy are just demanding for yet worse to come.

    'Wars on drugs' with cops and Rambo soldiers supposedly kicking ass just doesn't work for anything good. Too bad both nations seem to have so many arm chair Rambos hoping for yet more of the same stupid crazy same.


  5. The Mayor describes not only Juarez but the whole border as well. En las ciudades de Tamaulipas se vive una situacion similar de ingobernabilidad. Muchos no sabemos usar un arma pero cada vez estamos mas convencidos de armarnos para defendernos de los distintos carteles de la zona y tambien de la policia municipal...y de los de transito, todo parece lo mismo. Hasta en la casa debemos buscar los lugares mas seguros para poner las cunas de los hijos; instruirnos para hecharnos al piso en las balaceras diarias. No parece que habra un fin cercano a esta "guerra". Se esta llegando la fecha de armarnos y defender a nuestras familias por nosotros mismos, a pesar de las autoridades corruptas o medrosas. Se esta llegando la fecha de dejar de escondernos bajo la mascara de "gente pacifica" que en realidad ha sido miedo y contraatacar a todos estos enemigos.

  6. you only need to turn the business over to governments...............

    And ruin God's green earth? I don't think so. How about legalizing it in Mexico so that it can export it to other countries that have legalized it. Imagine the kush some of these plantations could produce; the highly potent hash packaged like mexican chocalate in a variety of flavorss; honey-dippd hand-rolled blunts wrapped in corn husks and sold in cigar boxes as gifts to your favorite pot-head; indoor hrydro-ponic gardens in every street corner selling them by the seedlings and fully grown pots good enough for any Dutchman; opium candy for those with a more sophisticated palette; organic poppy and cocoa fields growing in the lush-green hill-sides rivaling the Columbian and Afghani varieties. No more cartels, only competetive businessmen, connosieurs if you will of unheard-of strains, and yet to be imagined cross-breeds; where some are eager to share their knowledge about their organic growing methods while others guard their secret heirloom seeds. It doesn't have to be the way it is, the bloodshed, the poverty, the ignorance. If only man could 'see' would he progress and leave the current 'ape-man' behind. Do not, I repeat, do not let politicians take over the gifts of the Gods.

  7. The world will always have drug users and drug dealers. However if one factor is removed the drug trade can be stifled dramatically. STOP THE MONEY STOP THE CARTELS!

    My understanding is generally drugs are given on a consignment basis to the cartels, who then transact to have them transported to the dealers. At which point the dealers pay the cartels who then can pay the originator of the drugs.

    Image what would happen if the money from the dealers here in the US didn't make it back to the cartels? They couldn't pay their drug source, who then wouldn't give them drugs...and very likely wage war on them!

    Rather than fighting violence with violence...why not focus on stopping the money? Nobody will work for free...and I promise you the number of people willing to die for free is very small!

  8. 20:36 Sí, es el momento ... no hay más que suficientes personas dispuestas a ayudarle a obtener las municiones necesarias para garantizar su bienestar familiar. Yo personalmente va a tomar mi "retiro" escuadrón de batalla de Irak endurecido marines de EE.UU. y bien armado en la zona de batalla Juárez la próxima semana. No hay que esperar, 4 de mi equipo son los únicos de las ciudades fronterizas, tienen sangre mexicana, y no de pie para ver esta mierda por más tiempo. Hemos estado haciendo grandes alijos de armas, municiones y equipo de operaciones nocturnas en el área de El Paso. Estamos listos, y el único objetivo aquí es matar a tantos de sus sicarios de lo posible, cada fin de semana a partir de ahora hasta el final del problema. Nosotros vamos a usar francotiradores para la comodidad, sino por vía operaciones en tierra se comenso esta semana.

  9. and so it begins, narcoculero versus combat marines of mexican money is on the marines...the Z has terrorized so many familys it was bound to happen ...semper fi..uhrah

  10. 9:45 if you do that, I will build you a monument... these cowards do not even confront mexican marines, imagine what american marines would do?

  11. Amen, let the good people of Mexico know, WE WILL be in their city, silent mostley, but watching and dispatching all who are Zeta related. La Linea, this means you! Amen.

  12. 12:38 you seem to assume US marines would be better than Mexican marines. That is a huge assumption.

    Ernesto 1 has it right. Mexico can and will solve this. US troops are not needed or wanted. As requested through channels the US can and will provide money, intel, technology, hardware, etc. US should be asking our Mexican neighbors how we can help.

    Watch out for Ortega in Nicaragua. He is putting troops on the Costa Rican border over "disputed territory" but Costa Rica has no army. Calderon has already asked Ortega to remove the troops. Ortega needs to start some shit with Costa Rica because Nicaragua is in economic trouble and her people are restive.


  13. "We are all in this together"!That depends. If Americans do not read borderland then they have nothing to worry about. The US Government does not want to undermine the publics confidence in it's crime fighting institutions and has a see no evil, hear no evil,speak no evil,approach to the problem. One example of the denial is American confidence in Mexico's police.Every friggin person in Mexico older than 8 knows the police are not to be trusted, yet the crime fighters in America share information on a daily basis.They will even tell them the source and hope for the best. So read the google news, and then go back to watching the Simpsons, America is safe and there is nothing to worry about!

  14. Exactly, peope believe Murguia and his long story of how to solve the problem... not 4 years ago some friends wanted to open a business in mexico (legitimate), but the buyers wouldn't buy from them, they said "Murguia controls that sector, and if we start buying from you, he will tell other suppliers to stop selling to us". He is not the solution, he is part of the problem. Only in Mexico you can monopolized a sector and get away with it, the US is no saint, but we have anti trust laws (courts of equitable relief) that serve as shields.... by the way it was a business of supplying supplies to construction sites...

  15. no difference between American marines and Mexican marine....from the halls of Moctezuma to the shores of Tripoli.....American marines have a history of fighting in the most dangerous conflicts on earth in all parts of the earth...Mexican marines never leave it is highly unlikely that the American commanders will be on the take..the two fighting side by side would be a very complimentary way the Z could stand against them

  16. sounds like the narcoputitaz have pushed their luck too far...the gods of war have noticed them and REAL warriors are about to descend on them ,,,if this is not a hoax ..the criminals are fucked....death squads are very effective

  17. erni be able to go to work , you have to be able to leave the house and not be killed...appeasement is part of the problem ...not the solution

  18. I like where this thread is going... But honestly, the thing holding back the(I'd bet a large contingent of)willing Americans with vetran status from going out at night and doing this, is there are not many proper channels to cross and engage w/o the notice of Border Patrol... look for them in your home town I say, they live here among us...the Z do. I see them every day here in Central Tex... we know who they are, we've been drawing a web with names on it for about 3 years... Bounty Hunters Unite....

  19. Hey, so what happened to my posting? I asked if an experienced California cop could be a police chief in Mexico. Would there be any problems with that. Would Mexico allow that. Anoymous for now.

  20. To 10:51AM AKA Cali Cop..

    I do not think there is any restriction to you becoming a comadante Policia or police chief.
    You would have to be able to speak spanish of course I am asumming you do.

    However the reality is this; all Border towns and most interior cities are corrupt and sleep with the cartels, whoever has the territory, in my case it is the Zs. However also in my case in my city in Coahuila Chapo came to town for a few last spring and our chief was killed, his body left in the parking lot of a burned out factory..also the work of the cartel. His dead body had a narco message attached to his chest with ice picks. He was with the Zs but they were busy with Chapos gang. It is a dangerous profession with pennies for pay and corruption is by force or whatever. It is what is. This will not change soon. Municipals have little money and get no/little help from state, let alone feds. There is no training dismal equipment and pay is an outrage. Easy pickins for corruption.

    It is my opnion, and hope, that municipal gov should be taken over by the feds or second best the state but feds would be better, all forms of municipals, from the presidente (mayor) down, they all are with local cartels.

    I do believe martial law should be impose in key cities and sealed, much like the maquilas in Juarez the entire area is sealed by the feds...consequently they are protected from the atrocities committed elsewhere in Juarez.

    This is my firm opinion as someone who has been in Mx for years and works, socializes, befriends and knows all levels of society...yes...even "Them" it is unavoidable they have an everyday family life as well


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