The party’s over in Ciudad Juarez

June 18, 2010

Rubble lines the forlorn streets of Ciudad Juarez’s historic center just across the Rio Grande and the sleek glass towers of El Paso, Texas in the distance. MEXICO/Huge piles of grey debris lie on the roadsides as dogs sniff in the ruins of the destroyed Vampiro nightclub, its pink concrete walls nothing but a mountain of steel and dust.

The desolate remains of buildings in the Mexican border city look like the place has been bombed. This is a war zone, the bloodiest front in Mexico’s drug war where a staggering 5,500 people have died over the past 2-1/2 years.  But there are no bombers flying over head.

In a desperate attempt to curb the killings, the local authorities, armed with menacing yellow bulldozers, are gradually demolishing the bars, hotels and brothels of the once famous Calle Mariscal and Avenida Juarez that officials say breed the drug crime that is terrorizing the city. The once elegant husk of a building where Frank Sinatra sang in the 1950s is slumped and dirty like an old cigarette end, but locals say it might still be saved, although no one can be sure.
Ciudad Juarez was once a fairly glamorous place, a kind of Las Vegas that boomed in the U.S. Prohibition era of the 1920s and early 1930s as it lured American film stars and singers to its famous Kentucky Club bar. Named after Benito Juarez, a 19th-century reformist president, the city is scattered with historic buildings and monuments that recall the intense fighting here during the Mexican Revolution between 1910 and 1920. Even as recently as three years ago, the city was packed with U.S. party goers and tourists looking for cheap tequila, prescription medicines and sex.

Ciudad Juarez MEXICO/was always a dangerous place, infamous for the unsolved killings of hundreds of young women in the 1990s. But now residents morbidly recount the drug murders on almost every corner. U.S. college students, off-duty national guard troops and day-trippers looking for a pair of leather cowboy boots do not dare step foot in the city. The Avenida Juarez is lined with abandoned pool saloons and boarded up windows, shuttered pawnshops and dentists and the padlocked gates of luxury strip bars.  MEXICO-DRUGS/

Across town in an wealthy, American-style district of the manufacturing city that has mushroomed since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the pyramid-shaped Sphinx nightclub seems to sum up of Ciudad Juarez’s demise.

A grand palace of pleasure with a golden pharaoh on its roof and kitsch hieroglyphic paintings in its entrance hall, the parking lot for 400 vehicles is filled with rubble and rubbish. Pigeons have nested above the door and sully the marble steps. A big sign hangs over its balcony: “For sale, hire or partnership, ideal for casino or other business.” Ciudad Juarez is a gamble few investors are willing to take right now.


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Posted by The party’s over in Ciudad Juarez | Report as abusive

I’ve started looking at this from the industrial/factory side since that’s such a big part of the Juarez economy, though I hear that the night life, tourist, and entertainment sectors are suffering.

Funny thing is that factories aren’t leaving, and are in fact recovering despite the abysmal situation. But for how long, and to what extent? As the article mentions, investors are getting cold feet. I look into it more here: m/insurgent_consciousness/2010/06/crime- ml

Posted by A.M.Olesker | Report as abusive

This is so upsetting. It is good to see that reuters is taking an objective viewpoint unlike other media sources. No wonder their integrity is waning as cited by The committee for Media and Newspaper integrity. php

Posted by tom_jayson | Report as abusive

The industrial base of Juarez will soon fail as well. The businesses that have been destroyed by blackmail and threat will soon drive the greed of the Mexican drug mafia to squeeze the maquiladoras, and murder will soon follow as the desires of the mafioso psychopaths are not met with increasing vigorish. It is the nature of criminals to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. The only cure is for the goose to fight back with equal abandon and superior weapons.

Posted by tireguy | Report as abusive

Tireguy, I see where you are coming from with the grim prognosis, but brute force is not the only answer, nor do I think it is the answer at all.

Regardless of what you think of the Mexican armed forces, federal police, and local law enforcement, the MANY THOUSANDS of men they have deployed in Juarez are certainly collectively better armed, often (though not always) better trained, and clearly the superior force. Attempts to up the manpower have in the long run done nothing, and I doubt the problem is that Mexico isn’t fighting the drug war hard enough- there seems to be at least one massive shootout most days, so the problem is neither the number of boots kicking down doors nor those boots kicking hard enough.

The problem seems to be that the cartels have information access superiority over the forces of order- they not only have better intelligence, but through members of the community, corrupt officials and officers, and their own clever system of moles and lookouts, can access information better and faster. You can’t kill what you can’t find or arrest who you can’t convict. We explore this concept here: m/insurgent_consciousness/information_ac cess_superiority-1/

As for how Juarez specifically can deal with criminality, I see something like John Robb’s Resilient Communities springing up if the government cannot take care of business ( ck/6a00d83451576d69e200e55011db6f8834). Here, the community will begin providing for defense and social services independently of the government. That is how things have been getting done in unstable areas from Somalia to Jamaican slums.

Posted by A.M.Olesker | Report as abusive