Mexico killings: President Calderón visits Juarez to tout new social programs
President Felipe Calderón visits Ciudad Juarez today, just days after the Mexico killings of two Americans. He will tout new social programs aimed at improving life in the violence-wracked city.
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“They have been combating violence with the military, and that has obviously not worked,” says Hugo Almada, a long-time activist in Juarez.Skip to next paragraph
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Nobody expects a withdrawal of forces.
In fact, authorities say they will be bringing in more police to carry out intelligence-gathering to fight extortion and kidnapping that has scared off residents. “Nobody wants to see the army on the streets, we wish we could get past it,” says Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz. “But the army is the only way out of what is happening.”
But for once, the mayor, the federal government, and a slew of human rights workers, social workers, and angry and traumatized parents seem to be on the same page. “We are all Juarez,” in its initial phase, will include the construction of five more high schools, health centers, 35,000 temporary jobs, microcredit for 10,000 people, and universal healthcare coverage for 280,000 people, the mayor says. The list goes on.
Combining the fight against crime with the social programs could be a laboratory for the rest of the country, says Mayor Reyes Ferriz. "Juarez is very much at the center of decisionmaking. It will have repercussions in the rest of Mexico," he says.
The US, which has sent FBI agents and other officials to investigate the killings over the weekend, has supported Calderon's military strategy, pouring aid money into new helicopters, technology for customs, and training for police.
Yet, as Mexico has shifted its rhetoric on the drug war, so, too, have US officials.
"People in Washington are thinking about what comes next," says David Shirk, a Woodrow Wilson Center fellow and professor at the University of San Diego. "Juarez has certainly been the watershed moment in changing rhetoric and public discourse on these issues in both countries."
Expectations are running high in Ciudad Juarez.
"We need to combat the causes of violence," says Jorge Quintana Silveyra, the rector of the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez, noting that more than half those from 6th to 12th grade are not in school. He calls it a "social disaster," and has asked federal legislators for extraordinary funds, the same kind released during “natural disasters,” he says, to help rescue the city.
"Violence has no good results only with the police," says Mr. Silveyra. "The only way out of this is through education and culture."
But amid presidential visits and federal officials turning a local hotel into temporary headquarters, doubts are rampant.
Public anger mounted in the wake of the teen massacre in January, after Calderón initially dismissed the children as gang members. He later apologized, but graffiti on the walls just a few homes down from the shooting makes sentiments clear: "Calderón, liar!" screams one angry message.
Calderón is likely to face similar protests today.
And even academics and activists who support “We are all Juarez” in theory worry that the promises will fail if corruption and impunity are also not profoundly tackled. “Without justice, all the social programs they create are at risk,” says Leticia Castillo, coordinator of the sociology department at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez.
“This could be a turning point,” says Mr. Almada, the activist. “It is not one yet.”