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Latin America & Caribbean

Lopez Obrador looks to Juarez, with more than 13,000 murders in 10 years, for ideas on how to pacify Mexico

The future president of Mexico will hold a string of forums along the border to figure out how to eradicate the country's violence. But in Juarez, previously used as a laboratory for failed pacification efforts, residents are greeting the initiative with both skepticism and hope
9 Ago 2018 – 11:46 AM EDT
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MEXICO CITY – Former President Felipe Calderón went to Ciudad Juarez in 2008 to launch Joint Operation Chihuahua, a declaration of war on organized crime. But neither Calderón nor his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, managed to pacify the city, which remains one of Mexico's top hotspots for violence, murder and human rights violations.

On Tuesday, 10 years and more than 13,000 murders later, President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador arrived in the border city in search of ideas for pacifying the country amid a recent upswing in murders, with at least 44 people killed in the last seven days.

The forum Escucha Ciudad Juárez will be the first of Lopez Obrador's 17 planned stops around the country to meet with victims of the violence, representatives of civil society, at-risk groups, local authorities and religious leaders. The issues to be discussed will include forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, the killing of women, torture, people trafficking and migrant smuggling.

López Obrador has said he picked Ciudad Juarez to launch his search because it has had one of the worst levels of insecurity in the last decade. Although those levels dropped significantly in recent years, the murder rate rebounded in the past three months, and especially this weekend.

Journalist Rocío Gallegos, editor of La Verdad and co-founder of the Red de Periodistas de Juárez, said some residents don't trust Lopez Obrador's initiative because the city has been a laboratory for many government programs that proclaim peace yet fail.

“Some programs come with police activities, others include social, education and health initiatives and there's been no change, so there's a lot of skepticism. But others have hope because they feel that (Lopez Obrador) is listening to them, even before he takes power,” Gallegos said.

The journalist said the violence has persisted despite the different strategies under the last four presidents of Mexico: Ernesto Zedillo, Vicente Fox, Calderón and Peña Nieto. In a column published in La Verdad, she noted that Fox implemented the Coordinated Plan for Public Security in 2003, which used police and social efforts to knock down the high levels of crime. It did not work.

Five years later, Calderón launched Joint Operation Chihuahua as a declaration of war on drug traffickers. But stories about violent murders continued to fill the news media.

One of the most notorious cases during this period in Ciudad Juarez was the Villas de Salvárcar massacre in January of 2010, when gunmen burst into a young students' party and killed 15 people while wounding 10.

Many reasons for the rebound of violence in Juarez

Gallegos said that although authorities blamed the rebound of violence over the past three months on fights among organized crime groups, the presence of many innocent people among the victims has spread concern throughout the city.

Chihuahua State prosecutors have said the murder of a jailed gang leader sparked the most recent violence in Ciudad Juarez. Juan Arturo Padilla, aka “The Genius” and second in command of the Los Aztecas gang, a part of the Juarez Cartel, was stabbed to death Aug. 2 at the Aquiles Serdán prison

Barely 20 hours after Padilla's death, eight men and three women were hung and killed in a private home in Ciudad Juarez in what authorities believe may have been an act of a revenge. State forensic experts said all the victims has a “tourniquet” placed around their necks, and several had light bulbs filled with drugs in their anuses. Eight people have been detained in the case.

Ciudad Juarez officials registered another 17 murders on the same day. Another people were found murdered on Saturday and five more murders were reported Sunday and Monday.

National security analyst Alejandro Hope said the wave of violence in Ciudad Juarez in fact started several months ago. Prosecution reports show 713 murders in the city so far this year – nearly the same number for all of 2017.

“At this rate, we're going to have more than double (the murders) reported in Ciudad Juarez in 2015. And over the last three months, which have been especially violent, we have an average of six murders per day, a major increase compared to the beginning of the year, when we saw an average of two murders per day,” Hope added.

There's no specific cause for those numbers, he added, although there's speculation about a possible conflict between the Los Aztecas and La Linea gangs, a fight within the Los Aztecas or an increase in methamphetamine smuggling.

Others point to a lack of coordination between federal and state authorities, but Hope insists that there's no single reason. Aside from the recent events, he added, many of the city's structural problems remain, such as its geography and economic development model.

Hope said that's why the new Lopez Obrador government will need much more than meetings to truly eradicate the violence in places like Ciudad Juarez. “There will be meetings, like the ones held before. But I am not sure they will come up with answers. Meetings with victims are nothing new, but it's good to listen to them,” he said.

Gallegos said that what Juarez residents really want is a truthful accounting of everything the city has lived through in the past 10 years.