John Hoffmire: A tale of two cities in northern Mexico: One has a murderous history and one is fairly calm

Published: Monday, Dec. 16 2013 7:55 a.m. MST

Furthermore, the city didn’t create zoning laws, which meant that the land wasn’t strictly separated into industrial, residential or commercial areas. Therefore, factories were dispersed all over the city, which complicated transportation. This was made additionally difficult because the city did not have an efficient public transportation system even for non-industrial areas. Owning a car was almost a requirement for many families. In fact, in 2001, 76 percent of families in the city had a car. On the other hand, those living in the informal housing areas could not afford such transportation.

Additionally, Juarez is a city located on the border of the U.S. This makes it an attractive location for big export-oriented manufacturing facilities. As a border town, it is perhaps not surprising that large illegal industries, such as drug and arms smuggling, would spring up side-by-side with official industry. What is worse, since many of the young people living in the shanty towns did not have good educational opportunities, they were also less able to obtain decent jobs. It is no wonder that some of them were attracted to the many gangs that used Juarez as a base. Subsequently, as drug lords started recruiting members from these places, they were very successful at finding foot soldiers for their drug operations and wars.

Oddly enough, the city did have a plan to cope with these circumstances. Furthermore, the state had an Urban Planning Institute devoted to addressing such problems before they happened. Nevertheless, as documented in the Territorial Diagnosis Study, there was a complete breakdown between the processes of planning and execution. Furthermore, the municipal administration’s ability to control gang violence and activity, on a day-in, day-out basis, proved almost non-existent. The period from 2006 to 2012, which corresponds to the time span when President Felipe Calderon was in charge, marked a time of intense violence throughout Mexico, with 31 mayors murdered all over Mexico. It is not surprising that in this general climate of violence local control might fail.

All in all, during the same period, official data reveal that up to 50,000 people died as a consequence of the drug war. This number is bitterly disputed by civil organizations and researchers, such as Molly Molloy at New Mexico State University, who claims that the real death toll was closer to 100,000. Notice that even in the lower case of 50,000 people murdered, this figure is comparable with the 58,286 American soldiers killed in action during the Vietnam War. From January 2011 to April 2012 alone, 219 police officers died in Ciudad Juarez as victims of the cartel’s strategy to intimidate law enforcement officers.

To summarize, the success of the Borderline Industrialization Program encouraged many people to immigrate to the city looking for jobs. This occurred on a very large scale. The city did not have the infrastructure or resources to cope with the increased demand for housing and services. Consequently, new settlers squatted on land surrounding the city, creating isolated suburban zones lacking services. With no access to jobs, and no schools, poor people and others began to turn to illegal sectors. Correspondingly, drug cartels were eager to hire cheap foot soldiers, and given the dreadful conditions in these slums, they found entire armies. Additionally, less-than-competent city management did not follow planning guidelines that were on the books, and thus allowed disorderly city growth.

Finally, drug cartels inside Ciudad Juarez and from neighboring sectors began wars to control the lucrative trade of narcotics that were on their way to the U.S. by way of Juarez. These wars had incredible impact on the lives of innocent civilians and on the city’s living standards.

By way of contrast, Chihuahua City was more competent in its planning and, more importantly, execution. Admittedly, Chihuahua’s problems were not as severe as those in Juarez. Nevertheless, its population tripled from 1970 to 2005. The city followed a strategy based mainly on controlling the expansion of the urban area. It started by defining an urban center and a road system that made sense. They zoned the city so that each sector had its own internal zones connected by roads and high capacity freeways. In that way, urban structures functioned, connecting the periphery with the center. With good planning, there was a better balance of the number of people who needed work and the number of jobs that were available. This curtailed, to some degree, the development of illegal businesses inside the city and in surrounding areas.

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