A Look Behind the Juarez Nightmare

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A Look Behind the Juarez Nightmare

Havana
Hey everyone:

Here's a book to add to the list on analysis of Ciudad Juarez if you are so inclined.  I haven't read it yet, but I never seem to be able to get enough of the topic. I bet I will. To say writer Ricardo Ainslie is a UT psychology professor is like saying Benjamin Franklin flew kites.  I've seen him speak at UT,  a border conference, and at the release of his documentary in 2006, and other places. He is an authority. I always wonder how he gets along with Charles Bowden assuming they know one another. I hope I'm not double posting.

Chronicling Juarez's descent into hell

For three years or so, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, was just about the most dangerous place on the planet. Between 2008 and 2010, the city had the world’s highest murder rate, outpacing, by some measures, places like Baghdad and Mogadishu, Somalia.

How on earth did that happen in a city that sits directly across the Rio Grande from a major Texas city?

The headlines during those bloody days gave a succinct, if simplistic answer: the vicious turf battle between the entrenched Juarez drug cartel and interlopers from the Sinaloa cartel in western Mexico. When violence began to subside in 2011 (Juarez has fallen to 19th on the world homicide list), the reason was similarly simplistic. The boys from Sinaloa had won the war.



But in his new book, “The Fight to Save Juarez” University of Texas psychology professor Ricardo Ainslie returns to the scene of the crime and gives us a far more nuanced look at how Juarez descended into hell. Using lengthy interviews with Mexican officials, specifically former Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, human rights workers and notably, the mistress of a midlevel cartel trafficker, Ainslie connects the dots of events leading up to the carnage. The result has the feel of a complex puzzle that’s been carefully pieced together, revealing a city singularly ill-equipped to withstand the battling cartels.

Particularly effective are Ainslie’s descriptions of the Juarez municipal police force, which he demonstrates was little more than the armed wing of the Juarez cartel. The drug war effectively began with a “narco-message” from the newly arrived Sinaloa group in January 2008 that contained a hit list of Juarez cops. The first battle would be over the city’s police department. “Whoever controlled the police, controlled the city,” writes Ainslie, a native of Mexico City. “The Sinaloa cartel was targeting the Juarez police as a raw military move; attempting to defeat its enemy by eviscerating its forces.”
As Ainslie goes on to write, however, a host of societal ills in Juarez allowed the battle to explode into a years-long bloodbath. The dislocations of the maquiladora economy helped provide the tinder that kept the murderous fires burning for so long. And a “solution” to the drug war in Mexico, Ainslie says, must also contain a plan to battle the social problems of unemployment, poor education and hopelessness.

We recently caught up with Ainslie to ask him about the book and what lessons Juarez offers the rest of Mexico.

Looking back at the events in Juarez, is there anything that could have been done to lessen the violence, or was it an unavoidable tsunami?
Yes and no. The fact is, you had these two powerful cartels that were at war with each other and whose leaders despise each other. And Juarez has long been one of most important crossing points into the United States; so that part of it I think had no alternative. You had these two forces colliding in this city with no counterweight. The Juarez municipal police was owned by the Juarez cartel lock, stock and barrel; the state police was owned by the Juarez cartel and there was very little federal presence in the city at the time. Who was going to stop this from happening in the city? Once that die was cast there was no stopping it; it was brutal, take no prisoners, literally, and it was a bloodletting. However, what could have been done and what still needs to be done is that every city needs some kind of reliable, and at least moderately honest law enforcement; otherwise you have 1.5 million people totally at whim of gangs and psychopaths, you have a city at threat of devolving into chaos and anarchy. If there had been a viable law enforcement presence in the city that could have changed the course of the war.

But also, for generations the city, state and federal government had neglected Juarez; there are large areas of the city that are ravaged by poverty, unemployment and drug addiction and there had been nothing for these people until the spring of 2010, when the Mexican government launched a massive social fabric intervention.

Why has Juarez become more peaceful?
Juarez in 2012 had under 800 murders, the lowest since 2007 and half of 2008. For the people of Juarez this is a tremendous relief. The question is why. If you go to Juarez, you will hear a lot of explanations; the most common is that the Sinaloa cartel won and took over the territory. That is also the most cynical explanation. A second explanation is that the Mexican government took down hundreds of Juarez and Sinaloa people; a third explanation that gets thrown into the mix is that the U.S. economy has pulled out of recession: During 2009 and 2010, Juarez had massive unemployment because the maquiladora industry — which is 50 percent of the city’s economy — had been battered by recession and that has really changed. The explanation that you never hear, that I think has to be added to the mix, is that in 2010 the Mexican government invested almost a quarter-billion dollars in schools, addiction programs and public spaces. So I think there is a consensus that the violence is also nestled within those social conditions. Yet those social conditions had gone unaddressed. That’s a lesson that must be applied to other communities, but it also must be applied in conjunction with a massive revamping of local and state law enforcement. That’s indispensable. I think you need both.

Most recent books on the Mexican drug war have been written by journalists. How did being a psychologist make your approach different?

A key difference is my orientation toward interviews. With people who are going to be characters in the book I have a very different approach. I take a lot more time with them, I’m always interested in trying to understand the world through their eyes even if some of their views or positions are different than my own. I think all of that comes from my work as a psychologist. That’s what you’re trained to do, try to empathize with the person you’re working with and try to understand their experiences and how they frame things.

How did you meet the narco’s mistress?

I met her fairly late in this process and it was probably the most difficult interview to get. She’s a very complicated person. It’s difficult because of all the people I interviewed, she’s the one person whose life really could be in danger.

I had been going regularly to Juarez every couple months; you get invited to backyard barbecues, for drinks, out for tacos, and she was at one of these events. I learned who she was and she agreed to talk to me as long as I didn’t use her name. It didn’t take a lot of convincing and that surprised me. Her lover had been executed (recently). The aftermath of that event, in which she could have lost her life, was still very fresh for her; she still cried about him. It was like a raw trauma for her. All of that may have facilitated her talking to me.

What was your sense of Jose Reyes Ferriz? Some say it’s impossible to be a mayor of Juarez during that time and be untainted.

Like everyone else who’s grown up in Mexico, my assumption was similar: extreme cynicism. I had that question myself and I systematically asked people: how did this guy get elected? And the consistent answer I got was that the cartels viewed him as weak, that they didn’t need him. They had control of the police and they didn’t think he would get in their way; they thought, “He may not be in our pay, but he’s not going to get in our way.” What I ended up concluding is that this thing blew up around him and he found himself in situation that he never imagined would happen.

Did the extent of corruption and cartel control surprise you?

I am from Mexico and visit often, so the idea of corruption penetrating spheres of life is one I’m very familiar with. But this was of an order of magnitude that I think most Mexicans have found difficult to wrap their minds around. It sort of inverted the traditional structure of power dynamics in the country; historically the criminals were managed by corrupt authorities. At the end of the day there was still some semblance of structure or control that authorities could impose. It seems that what happened is that the relationship became inverted and cartels began calling the shots.

 JEREMY SCHWARTZ

Ricardo Ainslie

mystatesman

DD
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DD
Administrator
Good article Havana.
DD
Words are powerful weapons, be careful how you use them.
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Re: A Look Behind the Juarez Nightmare

eternalcode
In reply to this post by Havana
Here is the link to the source of the article above. http://www.mystatesman.com/news/news/opinion/a-look-behind-the-juarez-nightmare/nXjq7/

Thanks for the post Havana. Interesting article.

Eternal Code - Notes On NODs

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Re: A Look Behind the Juarez Nightmare

Chivis
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Lil Havana back from the courtroom (jejeje)

Great job covering the trial....ready for the next?  Now that we have the game plan down?  after the first week....yuk.
 
The way I see it.... the more people that don't like me, the less people I have to please
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Re: A Look Behind the Juarez Nightmare

jlopez
In reply to this post by Havana
Good article, Havana. Reading this article almost makes me homesick for the good old days. Right.

I recall innumerable incidents involving corrupt cops in Juarez and Valle de Juarez. You were far more scared of the "good guys" than the bad guys, who generally left you alone. Any interaction with a Juarez cop would end up costing you something. If you were lucky, it would only cost you money, usually all you had on you at the time. You soon learned to keep some cash hidden somewhere on your person to make sure you could get home. When a cop stopped you on the highway, standard practice was to give him some folded bills when he approached the driver's window. It saved time, unless you met up with the very rare exception who claimed he was straight. But that happened to me only once that I recall.

As bad as things were, it got worse when the narcos arrived. There has always been smuggling in the area, everything from liquor to weapons to dope. But the cartels were literally an invasion. Now, things could get very brutal and very bloody very quickly, and usually in a manner that normal people could not have anticipated. That's why about two hundred thousand people, including most of my family, left Juarez and the towns along the Valle de Juarez. One hears that things are better, but nobody I know wants to return.  

Much has been written about El Paso being the safest city in the U.S., living next door to the most dangerous. In my opinion, Juarez cannot be understood without understanding also the ties between El Pasoans and Juarenses, ties that go back a couple of centuries. Many of the U.S. gang members who contracted with the cartels to do dirty work felt right at home in either Juarez or El Paso. Some of them actually felt more at home in Juarez since the Juarez law enforcement authorities actually showed them a lot of respect. Professional courtesy.

Organized crime members immediately appreciated the value of a neutral zone, a refuge, as it were, where they and their families could lead normal lives. Many narcos, small, medium and large, live in El Paso, but they behave and make sure their people behave. The cops know who they are, where they live, but leave them alone if they behave and if there are no warrants on them. Under the surface, however, there is constant vigilance by both sides. An uneasy peace.

The economic and political factors that underlie the Juarez narco wars are fascinating, but would take too long to discuss. However, two key concepts are demographics and socio-economic displacement. I've always had the sense that the people who lived in Juarez and in the Valle were victims of forces they neither understood nor could have controlled. It is only in retrospect that one can see how the maquilas and NAFTA, for example, played out at the local level. Enough.
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Re: A Look Behind the Juarez Nightmare

Pinchegringo
Nice write up JLopez and an interesting take on El Paso.  I've never been but would like to one day soon.  I have been in the Valley though.
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Re: A Look Behind the Juarez Nightmare

elcienporcien
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AJ
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Re: A Look Behind the Juarez Nightmare

AJ
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Juarez violence has definitely dropped but that doesn't make things better. Economically, Juarez is still in deep trouble. Many people who have left are never coming back. It will take a decade for Juarez to get back to what it use to be, if the drug war ever ends. Kidnappings are still happening there too.

My cousin's Mex-American stepfather was kidnapped there while he was at the dentist. I believe they got about $5,000 from his family, but they first asked for $20,000. They stole his truck too, held him captive for around 4 days. He said that they blindfolded him and tied his wrists, beat him up the first day but after that, they were nicer to him. They left him in a room, offered him food and water but he said no thank you. While in the room, he could hear children and a baby in the background. He could smell food. He knew that he was in a families' home. What is unbelievable is that the drop-off point was practically across the street from a police station in Juarez. WTF. After they received the money from the victims' brother, they dropped off the guy out in the desert with barely enough money for a phone call. But he is still alive to tell the story. They eventually traced a phone call and caught the perpetrators. They were brothers and they were also local Juarez police who are now in jail, supposedly.
CHIVIS FOREVER
AJ
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Re: A Look Behind the Juarez Nightmare

AJ
El Paso has benefited from Juarez's hardships. Many of Juarez's rich are now living in El Paso and starting businesses there. They are never going back to J-town. Why go back to a country with a government who doesn't care for it's people?
CHIVIS FOREVER