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April 2, 2012

School of Americas Watch delegation
visits volatile El Paso-Juarez

By Arthur Kane Scott

School of Americas Watch (  led by Father Roy Bourgeois in February 2012 led a delegation of nine to El Paso – Juarez to investigate the socio-economic and political devastation that Mexican women/men/children are experiencing in the city of Juarez bordering El Paso, Texas.

Our host and guide was West Cosgrove who heads the Casa Puente (Bridge) Project which seeks to promote better understanding and relations between Americans and Mexicans, especially in the border town of El Paso–Juarez, by leading University/college and community groups into Juarez. West is very knowledgeable about the area and the issues of immigration, drugs, violence and militarization of the border being a resident of El Paso since mid-1990.


El Paso/Ciudad Juarez geographically can be described as actually one city built along the Rio Grande River.  However, as a result of the Mexican- American War, 1846-48, the boundary line shifted and it became culturally and socio–economically divided into a Mexican and American half. This artificial border division has “scarred” the region dividing peoples, families, and creating an “us/them” dynamic even though most residents on both sides are Mexican/Latino.  El Paso /Ciudad Juarez constitute the second largest bi-national metropolitan city in the world, and is the most frequently crossed international border in the world.

Both cities are essentially Mexican.  El Paso’s Mexican population is at 85% with a population of 800,000.  Juarez, on the other hand, although reaching a population high of about 1.3 million, has lost about 200,000 people because of the growing violence there over the last ten years.  Juarez is the largest city in the state of Chihuahua, and the fifth largest in Mexico.  Ironically El Paso is described as the “Safest American City” and Juarez, “The Murder Capital of the World”.

From the 1960’s thru the passage of NAFTA in 1994, the Mexican Government decided to promote economic development along the border called “Border Industrialization Program” by establishing “Maquiladoras” or “duty free” industrial parks which would produce American and European products and parts for the US and global markets.  This brought many Mexicans from central Mexico to Juarez looking for jobs temporarily lifting the economics of Juarez as wages rose to $25 dollars a week, along with public housing, health and social security. Garment factories first came into Juarez, but however soon left for Southeast Asia as labor costs were cheaper there.

In 1994, NAFTA, North American Free Trade Agreement was passed. Ironically, however, it began to undermine Juarez’s economic growth with its emphasis on free trade, privatization, low wages and profit and triggered an upsurge in killings and drugs.  Maquiladoras employed about 200,000 Mexicans, three-quarters American owned; other countries include Japanese, Belgium and French.  Major American players are GM, Electrolux, Dell, General Electric, Alcoa, DuPont, and Sony.  Most employees are women who make an average $5 dollars a day working 6 day 8-10 hour shifts. One can hardly survive on $30 dollars a week as basic necessities including groceries are much higher in Juarez than in El Paso.  One woman complained that “half her wages go for food”.  Complicating household budgets is that although alleged “cheap homes” were made available through the Maquiladoras, since the global meltdown in 2008, wages have been frozen making mortgage payments impossible to pay.  Many neighborhoods today are deserted because of layoffs and drug violence.  It’s estimated that 25% of all homes in Juarez are either abandoned or vacant.  The Maquiladoras have lain off 20% of the working force or 70,000 workers since 2008. Juarez itself has suffered a population loss of at least 200,000 during the same four years.  Many disrupted families have sought asylum in El Paso, or have been forced to return to Central/Southern Mexico.  Unemployment has become endemic south of the Border hitting Mexican youth hardest who are unable to find jobs.  Drugs and gangs now fill their economic void.  (Cf., Charles Bowden, Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy‘s New Killing Fields).

 NAFTA immediately became a problem for the Mexican indigenous peoples who witnessed the elimination of Article 27 from the Mexican constitution which protected their land holdings leading to the Zapatistas uprising in Chiapas on the very day, January 1, 1994, that it was implemented.  NAFTA depressed farming among the campensinos who were no longer able to compete against cheaper US corn/wheat exports.  As a former foreign minister of Mexico once remarked, NAFTA was “an agreement for the rich and powerful in the United States, Mexico, and Canada, an agreement effectively excluding ordinary people in all three societies, which has had devastating effects on wages, environment and civil society. (Cf.


Maquiladoras, or assembly manufacturing plants, employ about 60% women.  But instead of raising the standard of living for Mexican workers, the Maquiladors have had the reverse effect of depressing wages accompanied with longer hours, and inadequate benefits. These burdens fall heaviest on women who are preferred over men for their malleability and dexterity in assembling, but who find it extraordinary difficult to provide for their families because of the poor wages, and the higher cost of living, 30% higher, in border towns like Juarez than elsewhere. Compounding the problem for women is that the Machismo Culture that prevails is exploited by foreign firms against them as they are paid less with fewer benefits. It led one writer, Sierra Johnson, to describe this process of human degradation in Juarez as “making war on women bodies.”(Cf.,

Many of these women were targeted and killed in the 90’s, and the killing of women still continues to rise giving birth to describing Juarez as the “Capital of Murdered Women”. Femicide was redefined as a feminist term by Diana Russell in 1976 to refer to misogynist murders ("the killing of females by males because they are female") (Cf., Russell, Diana E.H. and Harmes, Roberta A, (Eds.), Femicide in Global Perspective New York: Teachers College Press, 2001, Ch. 2, p. 13-14).  Some women tortured and killed had a distinctive profile: “slim, pretty, long dark hair” giving rise to the belief in a serial killer or killers which could have been done either by a single individual gone mad, or by a powerful cartel which enjoyed targeting women.  According to Diana Washington Valdez, in her book:  The Killing Fields:  Harvest of Women, published in 2006, these killings were planned and involved powerful figures, “untouchables,” who were protected by the authorities at the state and Federal level as well  as involving  the drug cartels. According to one authority who lives in Juarez from 1993-2007 approximately 427 women were killed representing 12 % of all killings.

The position of the authorities was that the women killed were low income, uneducated, sex workers who were tied in one way or other to the drugs cartels and got caught in the cross fires of the drug wars.  Police discourage the reporting of missing women, often harassing families, and even have been implicated in the disposal of bodies. The Diana Washington-Valdez book became the basis for a film directed by famed Mexican director Gregory Nava that looked at the “femicide” issue starring Martin Sheen and Jennifer Lopez entitled “Border Town”.  Another film, a documentary, entitled “Border Echoes” by a friend of Valdez, Lorena Mendez-Quiroga, has been also released. In 2008 alone, according to Diana Washington Valdez, 86 women were killed.  Since 2008, the killings in Juarez continued to rise from 1,623/2008, 2,754/2009, 3,622/2010, to 2,086/2011 - 90% being men.

The Juarez mayhem is driven by a combination of factors including the drug cartels, powerful corrupt public/police officials, poverty, gangs, and militarization of the Border. For instance, the current Police Chief of Juarez, Julian Leyzaola, who previously held the same position in Tijuana, is a graduate from the School of the Assassins at Fort Bennington, Georgia, and had a terrible human rights record while serving in Tijuana where he was accused of torturing and losing suspects. During his stay at Tijuana drug violence fell off as he negotiated a deal with the competing cartels to use a different crossing, Mexicali,  rather than rely exclusively on Tijuana..


Drugs have always passed through Ciudad Juarez/El Paso, however, in the 1980’s, the drug traffic became more intense and lethal for Juarez when Mexicans drug dealers were able to wrestle the distribution of the drug trade from Columbia, and became major cocaine/marijuana players along the Border.  Two major cartels are the Juarez Cartel headed by Amado Carrillo Fuentes, and the Sinaloa Cartel, headed by Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman.  Guzman appeared in Forbes Magazine as the 10th richest man in Mexico in 2011.  Each Cartel sees Juarez as a major drug corridor which when controlled by either party exponentially increases their profits in cocaine, heroin, marijuana, crystal methamphetamines in the American market which consumes the largest quantity of drugs of any country in the world.  Control of Juarez is estimated to be worth billions for the cartels. (Cf., 2000 film, Traffic, analyzing the American broken war on drugs.)

The drug industry in Juarez is estimated to be worth at least $25-40 billion dollars; 30/40% of which is paid out in bribes to corrupt local officials, Federales and others, making police enforcement, the rule of law and public safety, well nigh impossible.  Too many Mexicans have succumbed to the “Dark Side”, because of fear and money.  But above all else, it is the American consumption of drugs, 60% of the cocaine/marijuana trade, which contributes to the nightmare of violence in Juarez. (Cf., Appendix, Labor-Relations Coalition Fact Sheet). 

Youth violence from drugs arises from poverty, and lack of government investment is teachers/schools. It is estimated that 40% of all adolescences are neither in school nor at work. They are described as Nini’s… “Ni estudian, ni trabajan”. According to one mother in a poor Juarez neighborhood, violence was so pervasive that mothers are forced to lock themselves, and their children in their homes after school as the streets are just too dangerous for youngsters to play.  Even elementary schools are unsafe as teenagers in gangs push for protection money, and foist drugs on children.  Police never patrol these poorer neighborhoods.  In fact they are afraid to enter.

The Cartels also work through local gangs - arming and seducing them with weapons and drugs, which have a devastating impact on youth, many of whom are attracted to gangs for reasons of self-esteem, companionship, money and power.  One group consists of former members of Chihuahua police, represents the Juarez Cartel called “Barrio Azteca”, operating throughout the American southwest from Dallas, to Albuquerque, Tucson and to San Diego, and another, the “Artist Assassins” or “Double A’s” represents the Sinaloa Cartel. (Cf., 

An estimated 90 % of the weapons used in the “War against Drugs” come from private American arms dealers who are cashing in on the drug wars.  There are about 7000 gun dealers in Texas, Arizona and California who make great profits from the selling of arms. Cf.,  There is a movement emanating from Church groups in Arizona to stop illegal gun sales, and “straw” buying by which third parties purchase weapons for the cartels. Arms have become a lucrative cash cow for the American Military-Industrial complex.  In 2010, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Group, the US led the way with arms deals amounting to nearly 9 billion dollars.

Some authorities insist that current Mexican President, Felipe Calderon is in bed with Guzman and Sinaloa Cartel explaining why the military focused on Juarez.  To win the 2008 Presidency, Calderon and Catholic PAN (Partido Acción Nacional) came to rely on big bucks flowing from Sinaloa Cartel to finance his election.  Beginning with Vicente Fox, the first PAN President, a political deal was cut by PAN in which parties need not reveal where their campaign funds come.  It is estimated that $380 billion of narcotic monies are circulating in Banks on both sides of the border, some of which ends up in the political system.  (Cf.,

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