Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly said that the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, had been closed since July 29 because of security threats. The consulate closed July 30 and reopened Aug 3.

Mexico hopes $270 million in social spending will help end Juarez drug violence

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, a border ciity that once seemed like a model for U.S.-Mexico economic integration, has become a dangerous place full of murder and violence. As the Mexican government struggles to repair the city's social fabric, inhabitants struggle to stay alive.
Map of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Gene Thorp/ The Washington Post
By Nick Miroff
Thursday, August 12, 2010

CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO -- At night in this border city, radio newscasts give a rundown of the day's homicides -- 15 one day, 12 the next -- a segment as regular as weather or sports. At least 291 people were killed last month, and more than 1,786 so far this year.

The runaway drug violence has brought 10,000 soldiers and federal police officers to Juarez, but the influx has not resulted in security or a decline in the death toll. That has forced Mexican leaders and their U.S. advisers to try a new strategy to stop the killing in a city that once seemed like a model for U.S.-Mexico economic integration.

"We have to repair the social fabric here," said Abelardo Escobar, a cabinet member sent by Mexican President Felipe Calderón with a new rescue package for Juarez, a $270 million surge in social spending.

The money is paying for schools, hospital renovations, student breakfasts, a youth orchestra, anti-violence training and drug treatment centers. There are funds to promote physical fitness, build eco-friendly houses and support free concerts -- 160 projects in all.

The government calls the campaign "Todos Somos Juárez" -- "We are all Juarez."

"We need to build trust and a sense of belonging," Escobar said. "We need to give people hope again."

The 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement brought hundreds of thousands of migrants to Juarez, touted as a place where American industry and Mexican workers could meet halfway. Jobs were so plentiful that assembly plants sent buses to the poorest parts of southern Mexico to find recruits, promising a cash bonus to anyone willing to get on board.

The Mexican government laid tracts of inexpensive housing in the desert, but built few schools, parks or libraries for the new arrivals and their families. Today, in the city's northwest slums, there is one high school for 400,000 residents.

Escobar and others here say years of government neglect have produced a civic experiment gone awry, allowing organized crime to fill a moral and social vacuum in a place of rootless newcomers and frayed family structures.

Parts of Juarez, a city of 1.3 million, still convey the sense of almost-America it once promised. But just off the wide boulevards lined with Starbucks, Applebee's and strip malls, masked soldiers and federal police patrol the city's dusty, treeless streets, riding in the backs of Ford Lobo pickup trucks with automatic weapons and body armor.

Few believe the Todos Somos Juárez campaign can turn the city around anytime soon.

The Juarez and Sinaloa cartels are fighting each other for control of drug-smuggling routes into the United States, and both are battling Mexican authorities. Last year, 2,754 people were killed in the city, and 2010 is on pace to be the deadliest year yet. Ninety-eight percent of murders go unsolved.

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