Sunday, 30 April 2017

MEXICO: Violent City Of Juarez Trying To Change To A Tourism Destination

Juarez had a reputation for being the town where you could do anything and anything could happen.

People used to say Juarez was the better half of El Paso.

Today, that version of Juarez has faded. Cross-border tourism was stifled by the ever-increasing militarisation of the US-Mexico border after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and then all but erased by the violence that occurred between 2008 to 2012.

During that period, Juarez became a place defined by images of burned-out buildings, publicly displayed bodies of people who had been executed, and eerily empty streets it was a city under siege.

After 9/11 nobody would cross over, when hit with the cartel violence, that is when the majority of businesses shut down.

The drug violence, while increasing throughout the 1990s, intensified in 2008 as fighting between the rival Sinaloa and Juarez cartels increased as each group attempted to gain control of the lucrative border city.

According to some, this violence was exacerbated when in 2008 the then-president, Felipe Calderon, sent in 7,000 troops and 3,000 federal police, a national force that operated in Juarez during the city's most violent years.

Every person in Juarez that I have interviewed says unequivocally that the violence was linked to the entrance of the army.

The dates they came and left coincide directly with the beginning and the ends of violence,explaining that the army and federal police were at times found complicit in collusion with cartels and also implicated in widespread human rights abuses.

Others doubt whether the army was the sole party to blame.

They're supposed to take the fight to drug trafficking groups, says InSight Crime, a non-profit foundation reporting on organised crime.

I think that causality is problematic,the increase in federal troops necessarily set the stage for violent confrontations between the two.

There were murders, executions, and evidence of torture everywhere.Violence was the everyday reality in Juarez.

Those were the darkest days in the history of town,back then the city was empty at six [pm]. It was like a ghost town.

According to the Articulo , Journal of Urban Research, between 2007 and 2011 more than 10,000 businesses closed in Juarez and between 2007 and 2009 alone some 230,000 residents fled the city.

In recent years, however, things have begun to change. The streets of downtown Juarez were packed with people. Plaza De Armas was filled with families and dozens of older couples danced in the street to a live street band playing Selena covers.

In the years since 2010 - that year, murders in Juarez topped 3,000 - violence has decreased dramatically.

I wanted to show people that it's not all that dangerous, says Wright, who promotes the tours on his website El Chuqueno featuring news and commentary on El Paso and Juarez. I wanted to show them they were afraid of nothing.

The easing of the violence has clearly led to the return of life to downtown Juarez, if not the return of cross-border tourism.

I used to come over every week," says El Paso resident,a dish locals claim was invented in Juarez. Since the violence, it isn't worth the risk.

In the hopes of increasing tourism, city officials in Juarez have embarked on a campaign to redefine the city's image and spur investment in the once thriving downtown area. In 2015, the "Juarez is waiting for You" campaign was launched.

The purpose of this campaign is to vindicate the city's image abroad and demonstrate the levels of security and peace that we have reached,said Mayor Enrique Serrano, during the campaign kick-off in early April of 2015.

The campaign follows an ongoing development project - the Historic Downtown Urban Development Master Plan - to improve the city's image, restore historic buildings and revitalise the tourist and business district that were decimated by the violence.

Juarez has gained a great achievement in the area of security, Chihuahua Attorney General Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas said during the presentation of the city's crime statistics in 2015. Juarez made it, despite having complex violence problems.

While many welcome attempts to bring tourism and business back to Juarez, others question the celebratory narrative.

We are having a hard time right now with all the violence and killing,noting an increase in violence in 2016 - 90 murders in October made it the deadliest month since 2012 - that led some to fear a return to the earlier years when the murder rate was at its highest. It was getting better and then the killing started again.

Some attribute the rise in violence to the recent arrival in Juarez of the rapidly growing Jalisco New Generation cartel which is competing with the established Juarez and Sinolan cartels.

The entrance of the Mexican military in 2016 and again this year in response to escalating violence is, to some, an ominous sign that another cartel fight may be in the future.

This month, the border city newspaper El Norte de Juarez closed, citing the ongoing violence against journalists including the recent murder of Miroslava Breach, 54, who wrote about organised crime for Norte as reasons for its closure.

According to the Knight Centre for Journalism in the Americas, Mexico is the third deadliest country for journalists.

For many, the perception of Juarez as a "violent city" really began in the 1990s when hundreds of women were killed over the course of the decade.

Just a few blocks from the downtown area, the walls of a former guesthouse are covered with the faces of 50 or more missing young women and dozens of black painted crosses set onto a pink background with the words "Donde Estan?" - meaning "Where are they?" written in large bold letters.

Pink crosses originally marked the spot where someone disappeared or was killed.

From 1993 onwards, Amado Carrillo Fuentes of the Juarez Cartel, substantially increased the volume of cross-border drug trafficking. Homicides, including a substantial number of killings of women that were labelled 'femicides,' increased correspondingly.

The crosses are both a remembrance of the victims but also a warning to other women,referring to the wall, which is a visual reminder of the violence that persists throughout Juarez today.

While many have celebrated the improved security situation in Juarez, others say that there is a long way to go.

When the violence stops, the drug violence, the violence against women, all of it, then, naturally, the tourism will follow.

Just across the border from El Paso, Texas,has long been coveted by Mexico's narco traffickers, representing a gateway into the voracious US drug market.

Fighting for control of Juarez turned it into one of the most violent cities in the world between 2008 and 2012, but, much to the relief of people on both sides of the border, that violence has eased.

During the course of 2016, however, the violence picked up.

But the body count wasn't the only reminder of the bloodshed thought to be behind Juarez.

The arrival of the ascendant Jalisco New Generation cartel, taking up space in the city alongside the resurgent Juarez cartel and the fracturing Sinaloa cartel, leads many to believe that another vicious cartel fight is looming,if it hasn't already started.

The years leading up to 2007 in Ciudad Juarez, home to just over a million people, saw about 200 to 300 homicides a year.

The next year, however, saw a more than fivefold increase, to over 1,600 homicides. That was followed by a jump to more than 2,500 killings in 2009. The bloodshed surged against in 2010, reaching over 3,500 slayings.

The next two years saw declines to about 2,000 and then about 800, respectively but the spike in homicides and the response to it disrupted life there.

The surge in killings was so bad,I would find the mayor, oftentimes, spending part of the day praying for a miracle. The military was brought in, a move that many human rights activists to this day say made the violence even worse.

The deployment of troops and federal police to Juarez was part of a larger shift undertaken in the late 2000s by then-President Felipe Calderon, who emphasized attacking urban trafficking points rather than rural production hubs. This militarization of the anti-drug effort has been linked to more violence, human-rights abuses, and deaths.

The violence continued falling between 2013 and 2015, driven down by civil-society and citizen-security efforts, but also likely by the triumph of the Sinaloa cartel in its fight with the Juarez cartel for control of the plaza, or trafficking territory, in and around the city.

What happened was they killed each other,so many people died that part of the reduced violence was because of the extinction of the cartels' members.

2016, however, witnessed an increase in violence many have attributed to drug-trafficking organizations. The brunt of that increase came in the latter half of the year.

The increase really didn't start this year until about August, so that was after the local election, the state and municipal elections, which took place in July, and then the new people take office in October.

The timing of the spike led many observers to attribute the outburst of killings to uncertainty generated by the changeover in government.

In general the way the system works is the people who are kind of in charge of the major criminal operations in the city, they'll have arrangements with local leadership, both in government and in the police, and then when the government changes, they have to negotiate some kind of new arrangement.

It is clear that with the change of government, there also comes a struggle for control among criminal rackets, especially in Juarez and Chihuahua City.

When a new regime comes, there usually is a 'cleaning of the house' in the criminal world.

Tremors in the government-cartel relationship were not the only drivers, however.

A dispute about the drug trade itself is thought to have spurred on growing conflict between the long-dominant Sinaloa cartel and the remnants of the Juarez cartel that remain active in the city.

The government, in their statements saying that the uptick in violence was due to things happening in the local, domestic methamphetamine trade.

The war is because the Sinaloa cartelwants to sell the crystal and we aren't going to leave, there are orders to do whatever in order to not permit any of that,Jorge, a mid-level enforcer and recruiter for La Linea, the armed wing of the Juarez cartel said.

Mexican authorities in 2016 attributed the spike in violence to disputes over small-scale drug sales, particularly of crystal meth.

Recently, two human heads were found left in a Juarez neighborhood inside coolers,along with a narco mensaje, or narco message. The bodies were found later. The mensaje was, 'this is a warning to anyone who sells crystal meth.'

Added to the lethal mix in Juarez is the reported arrival of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, or CJNG.

Formed around 2010 from a former branch of the Sinaloa cartel in southwest Jalisco state, the eponymous cartel has surged to the top of Mexico's narco hierarchy in recent years.

In the Juarez-El Paso corridor we are beginning to make confiscations and some arrests linked to the CJNG,Will R. Glaspy, a special agent with the US Drug Enforcement Administration and chief of the El Paso division, said.

The operations of the CJNG in this zone represent a new dynamic for us,Glaspy said.

Nueva Generacion and La Linea, aka the Juarez cartel, have formed an alliance to finish off a deeply fragmented Sinaloa cartel and take control of one of the most lucrative routes, the Juarez-El Paso distribution route that supplies chains all over the United States, particularly the southwest, where meth's epidemic is high.

What is interesting is how the Juarez and Nueva Generacion have like a campaign in the city where they say, We're trying to finish off the Sinaloa cartel to try to keep the meth off the streets because the meth is so destructive said a Policeman.

The people that use the crystal only last three years and they die. We are killing people for selling meth and that money is going to us, because that which they spend on crystal they can use on heroin.

Regardless of their sentiments about meth, the cartel competition for Juarez has had clear results.

Through the first six months of 2016, the city saw 166 homicides, according to the Mexican federal government. (Mexican government statistics often understate the number of high-impact crimes like homicides.)

Over that same period, according to Juarez-based newspaper El Diario, there were 192 homicides.

In the latter half of the year, there were 304 homicides, according to government figures, while El Diario recorded 357.

Government data also shows 46 homicides in the city in January, while El Diario reported 54 killings that month and 84 in February, making it the most violent February in the city since 2011.

The year 2016 marked the worst year in homicides in Ciudad Juarez.

The level of brutality and style of killings are reminiscent of that that was seen between 2008 and 2012 between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels.

Many of those killings came in execution-style or drive-by shootings. In late October, a series of multi-person homicides stirred memories of the worst of Juarez's violence a half-decade ago.

Recent months have seen many people, some of them minors, gunned down in their homes or in bars and restaurants. Authorities have discovered dismembered bodies on at least two occasions since Christmas and came across two decapitated bodies in late January.

The spike in killings through 2016 came as Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman — vaunted kingpin of the powerful Sinaloa cartel — languished in jail after his recapture in January, spending much of that time in a prison just outside Juarez.

Guzman was extradited to the US in January, whisked away from Juarez to a jail in New York City in the waning hours of Barack Obama's term. It's not clear why it was timed that way, though Mexicans appear to be unhappy with the transfer.

Guzman now awaits trial in the US.

While he is left to ponder his fate, many in Mexico are looking with dread to the fallout from his extradition, and likely conviction or plea bargain.

In the past, the extradition and sentencing of major Mexico capos has opened vacuums in the Mexican underworld, bringing more violence as those left jockey for power and territory.