The mayor of Ciudad Juarez denies that his city, which often tops lists of murder rates worldwide, is the most dangerous in Mexico. This is the latest in a long line of such statements from officials, showing how politically important it is for the government to downplay violence and claim success in its assault on the drug trade.
In an interview with a Texas news agency, Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia dismissed descriptions of Ciudad Juarez as “the most violent city in Mexico,” arguing that residents in the city as a whole feel secure. “I don’t have the figures in front of me, but a city where 150,000 people participate in a parade, where the parks are full every Sunday, where the movie theaters are always full, where the commercial zones thrive, is not the most dangerous city,” argued the mayor.
Such a sunny tone is not often used when discussing Juarez, which is widely considered to be the epicenter of Mexico’s drug war. A report released in January by Mexican think tank the Citizen’s Council for Public Security and Penal Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Publica y Justicia Penal) found that Juarez had been the most dangerous city in the world for the last three years in a row. Its murder rate in 2010 was an astonishing 229 for every 100,000 inhabitants.
So far, 2011 is on course to be another bad year. Local newspaper El Diario de Juarez reported recently that murders were 40 percent higher in February than the same month the previous year, at 229 killings in the month. Meanwhile local media source Norte said that the 183 homicides in March brings the total number for the first quarter of 2011 to 636, a figure comparable to that of the same period in 2010.
The mayor's seemingly incongruous comments in fact follow in a tradition of Mexican politicians attempting to reassure the public that President Calderon's drive against the cartels, which has been accompanied by a surge of violence since 2006, is worth the pain. In March Murguia said, in reference to the struggle against the drug gangs, "This is a war. We are winning the war."
Various figures have made these pronouncements, from then-Inspector General Eduardo Medina Mora saying in 2008 that "Even if it doesn't look like it, we are winning," to President Felipe Calderon's repeated·promises to a doubtful public·that "We are winning the war against organized crime."
Such reassurances are necessary as the death toll continues to climb. Even as the security forces have made advances, taking down kingpins and locking up thousands of gang members, the weakened gangs are more desperate and more ready to use force. Inter-cartel violence has increased as gangs fracture and fight amongst themselves, and drug-trafficking organizations are pushed out of their old zones of influence and forced to struggle for territory.
As InSight has documented, the Mexican people are beginning to tire of the horrific impact of the government's drug war, and lose faith that the violence is a necessary short-term effect before things start to improve.
It is particularly important for the authorities to claim success in Juarez, a prominent border city which has garnered much media attention for its level of violence. A year ago last month Calderon visited the troubled city and told its inhabitants that, thanks to his government's efforts, violence was beginning to die down.
Juarez is still waiting for a lull in the killings.
Murguia’s full interview with the Texas Tribune is embedded below.