The Drug War In Ciudad Juárez Is Over, But Will The Peace Last?
Ciudad Juárez has been a front for one of the most brutal drug wars in history. Beginning in 2008, the four-year-long war has produced a horrifying number of recorded (with several unrecorded) casualties – 1,623 in 2008; 2,754 in 2009; 3,115 in 2010; 2,086 in 2011 ; and – thus far – 542 casualties in 2012. According to Juarez municipal officials, this past August recorded 34 murders – which is the lowest monthly death toll recorded in five years.
Just across the border from Ciudad Juárez, eager citizens of El Paso, Texas, are ready to return to normalcy.
Just over four years ago – in the midst of a Mexican drug war – Ciudad Juárez was not the only city struck by disaster, but El Pasoans also felt the negative impacts of the debacle. Normally, El Pasoans would conduct everyday activities by traveling to-and-from Ciudad Juárez; people shopped, visited relatives and worked in the once-flourishing city. Once disaster struck, though, it became difficult to stray away from old habits, and in some cases, the possibility of being able to avoid the city was seemingly nonexistent.
This strong relationship between El Paso and Juarez led to turmoil for many. Since many El Pasoans were unable to cut ties completely from Ciudad Juárez, they felt the same ramifications. News of assaults, kidnappings and deaths seemed to reach everyone. Families – including my own – struggled with the very real possibility that someday it could be their family members or friends seen hurt, missing or dead in the news the following day. Unfortunately, for many, that possibility became a frightful reality.
The citizens of El Paso held the “luxury” of only having to view from their television-screens, whereas the citizens of Ciudad Juárez were forced to see the horror from their homes. As El Pasoans sat and watched, citizens of Juárez fought to get up and leave. A mass exodus of Mexicans was seen throughout the war’s four and a half year tenure. The movement of people helped many reach safety (El Paso, despite being struck by many external consequences of the drug-violence, is still considered one of the safest cities in the world), though not all were so fortunate. Many Mexican citizens were forced to remain in the war zone because of financial difficulties or troubles with immigration.
Furthermore, the mass exodus decimated the economy of the city; Mexican businesses that were once exclusively found in Juárez were now shutting down and moving to El Paso. The existence of extortionists prevented the small businesses that were left from continuing to operate, or even to survive. Every part of the business sector was left at the mercy of the cartel. The only major influx of money was from larger, foreign corporations that had harbored in the city. The entire economy was on life-support.
Absolutely every aspect of the city’s life seemed to deteriorate rapidly. For four and a half years, the social, economic and political structure of Ciudad Juárez saw nothing but failure.
Why now, then, is the city beginning to feel hopeful?
There are several reasons why the violence may have lessened so quickly, but two theories stand out above the rest. According to The Washington Post:
"Authorities attribute the decrease in killings to their own efforts: patrols by the army, arrests by police, new schools to keep young men out of gangs and in the classroom. Yet ordinary Mexicans suspect there is another, more credible reason for the decline in extreme violence: The most-wanted drug lord in the world, Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, and his Sinaloa cartel have won control of the local narcotics trade and smuggling routes north."
True, the local, state and federal organization of the police forces has mitigated the violence effectively, but the increasing efficiency of Mexican law enforcement was a corollary of the Sinaloa cartel’s victory. The remaining violence is only the tail end of a once-great war – the final negotiations of the victorious cartel.
The war, now over, has sparked growth within Juárez. People – no longer as fearful for their safety – have started returning to the city. Businesses are beginning to return to the city and the economy is growing; even the infamous Juárez nightlife is beginning to restructure itself.
Those are the facts, and the facts indicate that the city should remain hopeful. Hope and solace can be found in the growth of the city and – of course – the increasing security spreading throughout the city. Those are the facts; so what does this mean for the future of Mexico?
The reality – I believe – is that this newfound hope and peace is bittersweet. The most logical explanation for the ceasing of violence is that one drug cartel, the Sinaloa, now controls the area. That does not offer a strong vote of confidence. True, it does mean that the violence will be reduced, but the drug presence will remain prevalent and may even increase. Because the hope of Juárez rests on the Sinaloa’s victory, the security of the war-torn town can only last so long.
After seeing the pain and struggle brought by the war, I cannot help but hope for a better Juárez for my friends and family, but that may never be the case. For now, the city may “celebrate” the victory and enjoy the peace: for now. There may have been a conclusion to the first war, but this story is left with a ubiquitous cliffhanger. All the citizens of the two cities can do now is pray there will not be a sequel.