"Before the military arrived, there was always a certain logic to organized crime and the murders," says Esteban's mother, Lourdes Almada, who heads Red por los Derechos de la Infancia en Ciudad Juárez, a coalition of Juárez child-advocacy and community organizations. "Assassinations were more or less payment of debts, and those who carried them out took care to ensure that there weren't any confusions.

"Suddenly, you had kids witnessing executions or being shot themselves as they tried to flee with their father," Almada recalls. "Reality blew up in our face."

Newspaper editor Josefina Martínez motions to a wall across from the entrance to her son's primary school. "Right over there, cartel tags started appearing," she says. Before 2008, territorial markings were never so close to a school. Then the extortion began. In December 2008, teachers throughout the city's 900 schools were sent a clear message through the coded markings: Hand over your year-end bonuses (normally equivalent to a month's salary of $450 to $1,000), or students will suffer the consequences.

This graffiti stencil is common in Juárez. The image lines the wall of the nearly empty canal that borders the city and El Paso.
This graffiti stencil is common in Juárez. The image lines the wall of the nearly empty canal that borders the city and El Paso.
About 45 percent of young people between the ages of 13 and 24 are neither enrolled in school nor have formal employment.
PHOTOS BY LUIS AGUILAR
About 45 percent of young people between the ages of 13 and 24 are neither enrolled in school nor have formal employment.

"It was a new low," Almada remembers, shaking her head. "But that's the thing about Juárez. You think you've hit bottom, and then it just keeps getting worse."


Eleven-year-old Alfonso was returning from buying a soda at his neighborhood corner store in April when he saw a friend pounding on the triple-locked metal gate of a house. "Come quick," he remembers hearing. "Pablo has been killed." Alfonso's grandmother, Rosa, tried to stop him from venturing around the corner to the spot where his favorite cousin was likely dying, but the fifth-grader couldn't help himself. He turned onto the adjacent street and saw 19-year-old Pablo blood-soaked in a car. Neither Alfonso nor his three friends beside him breathed. "We didn't hear any shots," Rosa says. In Juárez, that's code for a knife killing.

Alfonso is big for his age, and his bangs are long enough to almost cover his wide, dark eyes. He sits on the edge of the couch in his family's living room. The large curtains are drawn, and plastic flowers and fake-gold-trimmed furniture dominate the décor. Though there's a sweetness to him, Alfonso's sadness is palpable. "He was like our other brother," says the stocky boy who wants to be a chef, glancing toward his older brother, 16-year-old Raúl, who's perched on a stool across the room. Alfonso continues, "He would take us downtown to hang out and was very protective. You know, like, always worried that something would happen to us." His voice is barely audible above the hum of the air conditioner, and he's aware of the irony of what he's saying. His eyes linger on the floorboards: "When I listen to the music that he liked, I get sad. Sometimes it makes me want to cry."

When Alfonso is out of earshot, his mom, Laura, says, "He's become very nervous. When his older brother or I am late coming home, we find him in a corner, shaking." She attends a grief support group for parents and is thinking of taking him to one for children. Alfonso says he's willing, but he's also clear: "I want to leave Juárez."

He's not alone. A recent survey shows more than 60 percent of high-school-age youths say they plan to leave Juárez as soon as they can. Since 2007, nearly 250,000 residents have fled the city. Hard numbers are difficult to come by, but it's estimated that 100,000 have moved a few miles north to neighboring El Paso. Most remain there but maintain ties to the city that was once their home. Others inevitably head north or west, deeper into Texas and the Southwest.

Those who can afford to take the short trip across the bridge have the money to keep the family afloat. These wealthier juarenses also have more reason to flee, because they are increasingly victims of Juárez's other two main crimes: kidnapping and extortion. Small and large business owners alike must pay for "protection" to be left alone. Dotting the city are the charred ruins of businesses that didn't pay; the common punishment is to burn the store down, often with the owner inside.

"Here, people trade in fancy cars for crappier ones," Almada says, because an expensive new car is a kidnapper's magnet. Walls around houses go up daily, and security guards multiply on sidewalks, but nothing seems to discourage the abduction-for-ransom schemes. "See this four-block radius?" Almada asks while driving through a particularly nice part of town. "Eighteen kidnappings in one week earlier this year."

Those who can't make it north go south. Many return to their hometowns. Juárez boomed between 1980 to 2000, when its population ballooned by nearly 1 million as the maquila factories — North American Free Trade Agreement-spurred manufacturers of everything from dresses to car parts for ready U.S. export — became one of northern Mexico's most reliable employers.

Now the recession has claimed more than 90,000 jobs, and the violence has spread. Lacking work and living in fear, 150,000 have headed south — some with the help of other Mexican state governments. During the '90s, factory owners sent buses south to transport workers to Juárez by the thousands. These days, states such as Veracruz send buses to Juárez to bring their people back.

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12 comments
Talk2sk1951
Talk2sk1951

So because Mexico does not give one flying crap about its people...we should bring everyone here and take care of them? The world is a sick and sad place for people. This is not Americas fault. But we have a duty to protect what we do have. Let God take care of the other countries.

Rjr261
Rjr261

This is not America"s fault? Are you kidding? Have you not heard of the rule of supply and demand? If America did not have such a huge appetite for crack, coke, marijuana, steroids, etc. Mexico woul' nt be having drug cartels fighting for "transportation routes" Wake up. This has alot to do with America!

Daria Marjanovic
Daria Marjanovic

Reading this article, I can hear in my head the voice of Joan Baez singing: "Show me the alley where the bombs had to fall..." Because I myself grew up in a very quiet alley with the friendliest neighbors you can imagine, gardens with flowers and birds singing in the trees. And all of a sudden the bombs started falling on people's heads. Unfortunately, the name of the town may sound familiar to you, as it has become the symbol of war - Sarajevo. In Juares it is not called the war, but in my opinion naming the degree of violence is more or less the matter of terminology. But why I am bothering you, good people of Phoenix, with these things? It is only a political question, far away from your children. And it really happens for most of you mostly on TV and newspapers, although the border is only miles away. Like it was happening in Beyrouth or Dublin for the children of Bosnia before the bomb situation. Or for the children in Juares many years ago when Mexico was just a romantic place for vacations. We think too often that things happening on TV to other people can't really happen to us. And only when they come to our doorstep, most people start thinking that maybe it could have been solved before it was too late - with talks, negotiations, fair international agreements, law and justice, police doing their job, judges prosecuting bad cops here and politicians spotting bad guys not only over there. And what can possibly do a simple person who is totally out of horrors of illegal trafficking of any kind? Probably just what La Otras Hermanas are doing - helping to the affected individuals the best way they can. Being simple human beings who really care about other human beings.Being a patriot doesn't necessarily mean being stupid enough to think that we can never ever be wrong about anything. I would like the fellow readers to think about it. The bullets flying over your head change the processes going on in the head. And it can happen to everybody just like it happened to me.Lost European

Stevemallman
Stevemallman

2 weeks on the internet and only 8 comments including mine.Maybe it's about time to shut down and go somewhere else like the northeast where they don't think they have an illegal immigration problem.

Charis
Charis

Hello All,

The good thing is that here in Phoenix there is Las Otras Hermanas. We work with women and their families in Juárez, Mexico providing them with more than sustainable economic opportunities. We are helping a community organization to build a community center for children with a library and childcare. We are working on building a new culture of safe educated children and economically independent women. The women we work with have been part of our programs and have been able to acquire sewing skills and resources as well as business trainings. We support their efforts to conduct workshops on gender equality and we have started a library for children out of the existing center where the women construct a fair trade organic clothing line.

We have a store in Phoenix where you can purchase the items. We are currently relocating to 1524 East McDowell inside of Hair Pollution Salon and will have our grand opening on October 3rd. We are 100% volunteer run organization and ALL of the profits from the store go towards our Income Generation Program.

To learn more email me at charis@lasotrashermanas.org or simply visit our website:

www.lasotrashermanas.org

So despite this awful situation in Juárez, there is something you can do, now, to change lives of women, children, and families in Juárez.

Charis ElliottFounder, Executive DirectorLas Otras Hermanas

Dreamer441984
Dreamer441984

This is very sad circumstances. I truely believe that stopping all illegal traffic on our borders, be it human smuggling or drug trade, and aiding Mexico's government in effectively stopping these cartels, is the best solution for all. If the factories were required to take better care of their employees then honest work could become more appealing again. If Cartel's couldn't move their product to the U.S. then dishonest work would become much harder and less appealing.

Guess
Guess

The truth is many young people consume drugs here in the United States. I say to families here in the USA to start educating their kids about not using drugs, maybe these kids when they grow up are anot the future consumers of drug dealers. Mexican cartels are active because there is too much demand for drugs here in the United States. The key is, if you want to have kids you need to be educated to know how to educate. American Families need to stop the drug use by putting attention to their young adolecents and give the the info about why not to use drugs. If there is no demand here in the USA there will be no supply. No border, military soldiers or laws will stop the cartels. The consumers will stop them by making the choice of not consuming because they know better.

jDub
jDub

Guess, we have been "educating" youth against using drugs for over 40 years. It is the illegality of drugs that keeps the cartels in business. We need to legalize drugs, seal the border, and simplify our immigration policies. Problem solved

Johnny
Johnny

I am from Ciudad Juarez, and everything they say here it's true, what i can say to all our American Friends, is that please for your own safety don't go to mexico, it's really a bad place to visit now.

Anyone can be a victim, not even mayors are safe

Ambeckman
Ambeckman

I have a friend who just moved to Poza Rica on the east side of Mexico to be with her husband who is only a legal citizen of Mexico. Her two children born in the US went with her, they are 3 and 1. I am scared to death for her - she speaks little Spanish and does not know anyone except for a couple of his family members. She has no job and has the kids with her all the time and her husband works 2 jobs to pay debt to his family for going into business with them. I pray everyday for her that she stays safe as well as her children. I have been to Mexico many times...beautiful country but it is being overtaken by drugs in which our country is responsible for supplying. Drugs are horrible, but if we legalized them I don't think our plight would be as bad. It's so messed up and we're now paying the price for not doing something sooner.

CC
CC

That is just scary. . . I can't imagine living a life so full of fear and injustice. It makes me shudder to think about it. . .Now I know to not take my own lifestyle for granted.

 
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