Sunday, September 06, 2009

Life in a Northern Town

Mexico loves a good record-breaking performance, but it's hard to work up a lot of enthusiasm for the accomplishments coming out of Juárez this week. The one that got the most attention, of course, was the massacre at a drug rehab clinic which left a city-record-breaking pile of 18 corpses. And just a few days earlier, and with much less fanfare, the city was quietly proclaimed the most violent in the world.

With 130 murders for every 100,000 residents per year on average last year, the city of 1.6 million people is more violent than the Venezuelan capital Caracas, the U.S. city of New Orleans and Colombia’s Medellin. That is according to a study by the Mexican non-profit Citizen Council for Public Security and Justice, which presented its report to Mexico’s security minister at a conference this week.

We're not so sure about the methodology here, and we'd certainly rather spend the night in Juárez than, say, Mogadishu, or Kabul, or Baghdad - but, really only if it came down to such a choice. Otherwise, with 307 murders in August alone (yet another record!), we feel pretty comfortable declaring Juárez something like a genuine hell on earth.

Last month, when we were wandering the weekend flea market, we came across a book that seemed more than worth the $2.50: Juárez: The Miracle of the North. Published by the Chihuahua state government in 1991, when the future of this hard-working border city must have seemed boundless, the book is one long piece of inadvertent heartbreak, like a guidebook to Lebanon written in the 1960s, or Havana in the 50s, or a Chamber of Commerce brochure from a Rust Belt city before all the jobs went to places like, well, Juárez.

Shortly after the book was published, NAFTA turned the city into an enormous, low-wage assembly plant for American corporations, and the Colombian drug cartels, their Caribbean transhipment routes having been largely choked off, began moving their product overland through Mexico. If there was any inkling at the time that these changes were coming, the book (written, of course, by the tourist office) manages to ignore it. From time to time this week, we'll be running little excerpts from it:

      The zone surrounding Campestre Juárez includes a residential subdivision of great prestige. Founded a quarter century ago, homes in this area east of Cuidad Juárez are subject to strict architectural regulations. One of the best golf courses in the Republic is found nearby. Pictured here is the home of the Zaragoza family, seen on a beautiful spring day.


Jorge Arturo said...

The mansion is still there, just instead of the lovely damatians you can find rottweilers and bodyguards with AK47

Anonymous said...

Before/after would be a lovely project.
Wonder what happened to the Zaragoza family. At least one of them may have been killed or kidnapped...