50 deaths a day.
As I bought my bus ticket to Ciudad Juarez I looked out of the window of the Greyhound bus station and saw on the side of a mountain the words:
LA BIBLIA ES LA VERDAD
‘It means The bible is the truth, read it‘ said the friendly cashier in a very thick Mexican accent, noticing what I was doing. I asked her where she was from. She pointed out the window towards neighboring Juarez. She asked me where I was going. I gave her the same answer. Her smile dropped immediately and a very stern frown entered her face.
‘Don’t you know whats going on there? I know people who have lost many members of their families just because they didn’t pay up to the gangs. Sometimes they were just unlucky and caught a stray bullet. 50 people a day die there and that’s just counting the innocent ones. People are afraid to walk the street. My whole family lives here now, we cannot go back home.’
Other people were now paying attention and attempting to talk me out of going there, telling me that there were other, prettier parts of Mexico to go to. I politely told them that I had made my decision and was sticking to it, thank you very much. They shook their heads and looked at me like I would never understand.
I did though. Northern Mexico, never a place anyone would consider very safe, has basically been declared a war zone. Most developed countries have issued travel warnings against visiting the border states for any reason at all. Whole towns have been deserted for the relative safety of the US side of the border. The gangs have now taken to fighting the army, showcasing just how organized they are by blockading garrisons and cutting off highways to stop reinforcements. Fast, organized, flexible and very able, they are proving a little more every day just how much of a flop President Calderon’s US-backed military action is. It’s like jumping in front of a rolling boulder to stop it. The violence is worse then ever.
The Wild West isn’t dead, it just took a very long nap.
There is, however, always a silver lining around even the darkest cloud. While most of the people who can afford to run to immediate safety across the border or elsewhere do, a lot stay and Juarez has one of the highest growth rates of any city in Mexico, a huge surprise in an area known for poverty and crime. People still try to get on with their lives as normal no matter how easy or tempting it is to run away forever. They are friendly and upbeat, smiling at the fact that some people still find their city worthwhile to visit. They know what problems their beloved Juarez has and don t want to talk about it, they just want to sit down and share a taco and beer with you, ask you where you are from and make sure you know exactly where you are going.
Their children run around in t-shirts emblazoned with PAZ POR JUAREZ, a hand made into a peace sign below the lettering. Security certainly is attempting to be better in the city, most of it absolutely swarming with agents from various security branches and federales. The people just know it will get better, if not soon than someday. Nothing can stay this bad forever.
The only way to stop this situation, of course, is to get rid of the source problem in the first place. The next time you are buying a few grams of cocaine or Mexican marijuana, think about where it came from. Think about how many people died so that you could get high for a night. The corruption on the United States and Mexico border is so bad that it would make a Nigerian question the ethics of it all and drugs still find their way North while guns find their way South.
Impressionable kids are rounded up into gangs with the promise of easy power a pull of the trigger away. The mark up of drugs from Mexico to the United States is probably about 500% so the margins are just too much to ignore for your average border guard. In a multi-billion dollar industry, the guys in charge can afford to throw a few million around to get what they want. I wonder if they might ever throw some money the way of a woman who had to watch her only son (7 years old, for example) and her husband get shot to pieces for driving in the wrong neighborhood?
Let’s not hold our breath. Most of the people in the city aren’t, thats for sure. They’re just staring at that hill, wondering if it could be the answer they were looking for all along…