Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Day in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

My name is Dunya Cope and I am a former member of the Witness for Peace Mexico International Team currently living in El Paso, Texas, just a few blocks away from what seems to be the epicenter of drug violence in Mexico. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has acknowledged the demand for drugs in the United States and weapons illegally trafficked from the U.S. to Mexico as causes of the continued violence. U.S. military aid to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative has done nothing to calm the situation. Instead, military “solutions” to the war on drugs have exacerbated the violence.

I went to Juárez to hear some stories. On my way to lunch with a nun, a priest and the director of a Catholic workers’ legal aid center, I saw my first dead body.

We were walking down Avenida Juárez, “the Strip” adjacent to the international bridge connecting two downtowns. Avenida Juárez had been a buzzing hotspot for many years, but numerous establishments have closed in the years since the Mérida Initiative was established. There are few areas of Ciudad. Juárez that bustle like they used to. The economic effects of the violence on the city are apparent. People are fleeing the city, people who stay can’t find jobs, and people with jobs still can’t afford to live. I see this reality in abandoned houses, barred up convenience stores, demolished restaurants: the ruins of a once-lively city.

On this day though, there were people in the streets, much more than usual. The labor center director told us she had heard shots just a minute before. Then, across the street, I saw a body lying on the sidewalk, partially blocked by an SUV, and a police officer picking up shell casings in the street.

I don’t know who the victim was. I don’t know if the media was portraying him as involved in cartel or narco activity. I know that most murders aren’t investigated in Juárez so there is no way to know the number of innocent people killed. The Associated Press reported on April 9 that the war for control of the drug trade in Juárez was “over.” But a friend who lives with her boyfriend in Juárez told me that there were still 8 murders the next day.

Regardless of who controls the drug trade in Juárez, regardless of whether murders have decreased from 300 a month to 200 a month, Juárez remains a desperately poor city. The Association of Maquilas reported over 80,000 job losses, about one third of jobs in the maquila sector, between January 2008 and June 2009.

Mexican politicians promise funds for development during campaigns, but nothing changes. The U.S. government is now including anti-poverty funds as part of our strategy for combating narcotrafficking But this aid is a drop in the bucket compared to the money being pooled to Mexican militias. And is violence really what it’s going to take to end the war on drugs?

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