CRF Blog

Juarez Returns to Life

by Bill Hayes

In Juarez Returns to Life, National Geographic reports that the Mexican border city, once one of the world’s most dangerous cities, is getting much safer.

From 2008 to 2012, the city of 1.3 million people was widely deemed the most dangerous place on Earth. Murders shot above 3,700 in the worst year. Criminals kidnapped and extorted with impunity. A quarter of all cars stolen in Mexico were stolen in Juárez. Businesses closed by the thousands. Anarchy descended.

The San Antonio neighborhood was among the worst. The boys now cavorting in the wrestling ring each had relatives killed or jailed….

Out in the colonias, or neighborhoods, at least 11 lucha libre rings now draw hundreds of kids donning personae such as Aztec Falcon and Ex-Convict. Juárez’s once empty streets are crowded again. Around the cathedral, clothing stores and Popsicle shops do a brisk business; cover bands play Spanish versions of “Johnny B. Goode” and “Jailhouse Rock” for shoppers who stop, listen, and dance. A children’s museum opened, aimed in part at the 14,000 who the museum’s director estimates were orphaned in the violence. Neighborhoods have organized sports leagues. Parks — including some new ones — are again places to socialize. “People are losing their fear,” Montenegro says.

What happened in Juárez to allow Montenegro and others to stop cowering and resume living? This is no wrestling melodrama in which a masked hero triumphs. Mexico found the political will, in Juárez at least, to strengthen the criminal justice system and invest in the local government. Doing so encouraged bravery from some unexpected protagonists: law enforcement officials who forged a more professional police force in a country where cops are often corrupt, businesspeople who stayed to fight rather than flee, and government officials who challenged the sclerotic bureaucracy and spearheaded dramatic reforms. [more]