Crime recedes in Juarez across from El Paso
The dance floor at one of several new nightclubs in this border city torn by the drug wars was packed with sharply dressed 20-somethings on a recent Friday night.Bass beats pumped. Lights strobed. Ice clinked in cocktail glasses. No one seemed to care that the clock had just ticked 1 a.m. in a city so violent its nickname is the “murder capital of the world.”“That’s because the crime level has gone down here like 75 percent,” shouted Jose Fernandez, his eyes scanning the crowd at Quinto Elemento, a swanky club one mile south of the border with Texas.“People feel safe, and they’re coming back out like old times,” he said. “We’ve got people coming here from El Paso, Las Cruces and even some from as far away as Albuquerque just for the night life.”The trend may be as good a window as any into Juarez’s cautious struggle to regain a slice of normality after the gangland bloodbath that killed more than 6,000 of the city’s 1.5 million residents between 2008 and 2010.
The city is a strategic crossing point for illegal narcotics entering the United States. As Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s U.S.-supported crackdown on drug-smuggling cartels reached its peak, so did the murder rate.
There were 2,101 killings tied to organized crime in Juarez during 2010, according to a recent report by the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute. Fewer people were killed in all of Afghanistan in that year. The Juarez homicide rate was 16 times higher than that of Washington, D.C.
Now the numbers appear to be changing. Organized-crime killings dropped more than 30 percent in Juarez during the first nine months of last year. February 2012 was the least violent in more than two years, according to statistics presented to The Washington Times by Mesa de Seguridad, a group of business leaders in Juarez.
“This city was dying two years ago. It was like a ghost town,” said Jorge Contreras Fornelli, a furniture dealer and member of the group. “People moved to El Paso, but now they’re returning. A lot are coming back.”...It appears the Sinaloa cartel has won its fight with the Juarez cartel over the distribution rights to the I-10 corridor that runs east and west through El Paso. That could explain why they have shifted their focus to Nuevo Laredo and the I-35 corridor that goes from Laredo up through Minnesota.
Before the drug wars, Juarez was my favorite border city. I enjoyed business trips to El Paso and going to Juarez to eat and shop. Ironically, it used to have some of the best Chinese restaurants I have found. The proprietors worked on the railroads going through El Paso and stayed in the area after it was completed.
El Paso has been remarkably free from violence except for stray gunfire from across the river.