Unprecedented Initiatives to Fix Ciudad Juarez

It finally happened.

The severe belligerence in the streets of Ciudad Juarez at long last grasped the genuine attention of Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon.

The complex socio-economical environment of large border cities such as Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juarez has bewildered most Mexican presidents, centrists and conservatives alike.

For most of Mexico’s heads of state, border cities have been distant nuisances, politically dangerous locations, where minimal presidential presence has been the strategy of choice.

But, consider that President Calderon’s conservative National Action party (PAN) prospects to remain in power after the upcoming elections in 2012 are dim. After upsetting the 70-year old reign of the revolutionary party (PRI) in 2000, the Fox and Calderon administrations have disappointed the electorate.

After becoming a frequent U.S. and global household and business news piece, Ciudad Juarez’ boiling social pressure just leaped to one of the top spots in the president’s agenda. The beleaguered city is perceived by many as a strong evidence of Calderon’s failure in his war against organized crime.

A toll of over 5,000 killed in Juarez in the current federal administration’s 3-year tenure alone peaked with a recent dramatic 16-victim student massacre.

This overwhelmed any cautious political reservations the President might have had and prompted him to take personal action on the matter.

In mid February, President Calderon rushed to Ciudad Juarez to conduct briefings and meetings with local private and public leaders. As a result, the President kicked off a series of task groups to develop analytical reports and recommendations to eradicate the violence from Ciudad Juarez.

The task groups worked intensively for a week, including the weekend. It was interesting to observe state, city and federal authorities and private and social leaders discussing the issues generally in an objective way and avoiding fingerpointing and partisan interests. Worthy of note was the participation of the wives of President Calderon and Governor Reyes Baeza in the task groups.

The President returned a week later to Ciudad Juarez to listen to the proposals from the task groups. In a large and long meeting, over 200 persons were at hand to present and hear the task groups’ conclusions and proposals for security, law enforcement, education, economic development, health and social issues, among other subjects.

In a nutshell, it was concluded that Ciudad Juarez needs a profound socio-economical and judicial restructuring.

Crime has mushroomed in Juarez as a result of many adverse factors that have combined to create the perfect environment for delinquency. To start, we can blame it on the usual suspects: Administrative and law enforcement government corruption, trade of illegal substances, political leadership dissociated interests, immigration patterns, unemployment and the economic crisis, lack of crime prosecution and a deficient public budget.

But there are many other factors, otherwise overlooked that are in play, for example: There is a large (estimates range from 50 thousand to 70 thousand) unemployed, uneducated, mostly family less, young population prone of joining gangs and crime organizations.

At the same time, there is also a significant growing segment of “Tier 2” and “Tier 3” criminals, who take advantage of the lawless conditions engaging in extortions, thefts and kidnappings.

Also, during the last two years, private payrolls in Ciudad Juarez have decreased by about US$1 million per day. Heads of households need to look for alternate sources of income, oftentimes in the informal economy and in some cases in lawbreaking activities.

In addition, many middle and upper class families are fleeing. It is estimated that at least 35,000 people from Juarez have moved to El Paso and about 120,000 have relocated to other cities in Mexico. This exodus and loss of “brain force” may eventually hurt Ciudad Juarez’ business competitive position.

Also, the negative international press reports Juarez is generating have bred a negative effect on the sentiment of foreign and domestic investors to locate manufacturing and service businesses in the region.

President Calderon and a handful of ministers from his cabinet noted the recommendations from the task groups. The President instructed the implementation of various specific actions from the federal government, including: The deployment of a 200 agents special federal police delegation to act against extortions and kidnappings; the incorporation of 200,000 low-income and no-income individuals to the social health services program; the creation of 3,000 new higher education scholarships; and doubling the capacity of children’s public day care centers.

In addition, the President spoke about other initiatives, yet unspecified in scope, such as actions to build and rebuild public recreational spaces, create new middle schools and vocational training centers, increase social housing loans, establish a new heroin detoxification center and put into action additional financial programs for small and mid-size companies to create new employment opportunities.

Also, a 100-day special strategy to screen the existing and new city and federal police elements will soon be in the works, along with a tightening of vehicle controls for ownership and registration.

State and city officers estimate that the new actions to fix Ciudad Juarez will possibly represent an amount of approximately US$60 million in addition to the already approved US$250 million city budget.

Calderon recognized that two years of federal forces and military presence in Ciudad Juarez have been unsuccessful in eliminating the violence in the streets. Calderon said the people of Juarez need to take back their streets to help fight the violence in their community, but he does not plan to withdraw Mexican troops just yet.

President Calderon said that he would be back in Ciudad Juarez in early March to personally follow up on the subject matters.

In a related initiative to improve the effectiveness of public actions in Ciudad Juarez, the State of Chihuahua Governor indicated that for all practical purposes and for an indefinite period of time, the pertinent State’s executive and judicial top officers will be relocated to Ciudad Juarez, including himself.

The State of Chihuahua will have elections for governor and city mayors early in July, 2010.