Apr 3, 2012

Citizens of Juárez demand social support and security from the next federal government

CNN Mexico (translation Americas Program) Activity in Ciudad Juárez, in the state of Chihuahua, began to reawaken a few months ago, but crime continues to affect business, slowing job creation and making it difficult for people to live a peaceful daily existence, according to local residents.

They claim that for this reason, no matter who wins the July 1st presidential election, the new federal government should have among its priorities the coordination of state and local authorities in order to fight crime and create education and health programs.

“Statistics show that there has been a decrease in high-impact crime (murder or kidnapping), but common crime (theft, for example) exists throughout the city,” said Leticia Chavarria, activist with the Juárez Citizens Medical Committee.

People are out more, we do not see shootings, but we stay in our neighborhoods, with barred windows,” he said.

According to the National Institutes of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), Chihuahua had the highest percentage of homicides as a total of violent deaths in a state in 2010 with 71%, when the average for the rest of the country was 35.5%. Most of these crimes were committed in Ciudad Juarez.

The town, which the US government this week described as the most dangerous “in the entire world,” recorded more than 3,100 murders arising from crime in 2010. In February, President Felipe Calderón said that that number dropped by 45% in 2011 due to federal anti-crime programs.

The president, a member of the National Action Party (PAN), reinforced security measures in Ciudad Juárez in 2008, when he sent soldiers to patrol the town. Two years later, the Army ceded this task to the Federal Police, which at the end of 2011 delegated it to state and local officials.

“Now the factories are hiring and you see people in the street. Before, if you went to the bars at night they were all empty. As soon as the sun went down everybody went home. We all walked around panicked,” said José Ávila, a taxi driver at the local airport.

Activists in Juárez, however, consider the problem of insecurity unresolved, largely because of the need to reform and train local police.

“In Ciudad Juárez, there are two critical roadblocks we must overcome, and they both deal with human capital. One is to the training of staff by the Center of Emergency and Immediate Response (CERI). Another is police training,” said Arturo Valenzuela, of the organization Security Bureau.

CERI is the agency that handles emergency calls to phone number “066.” Although the state and local police are charged with public security in Ciudad Juárez, CERI is still operated by federal agents.

This Sunday, Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) presidential candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto, promised that if elected on July 1, he will create regional police academies as a measure against insecurity, although he gave no further details. He was the first presidential candidate to visit the border town.

“An Army of Teachers”

The municipality of Juárez, whose capital is Ciudad Juárez, is the sixth most populous in Mexico with 332,131,000 inhabitants, according to the 2010 INEGI Census. That figure amounts to more than one third the total population of Chihuahua.

The area also has an unemployment rate of 6.08%, higher than the national average, which reached 4.85% in 2011.The number started to climb in 2008 and reached a peak in 2009, but then began to decline.

For activists, the creation of jobs and other social issues should be priorities for the new federal government, which takes office on December 1.

“The issue of violence found fertile ground here in the city. Sufficient education, healthcare, and employment benefits didn’t materialize. What we need are long-term programs.”

“The new government should aggressively promote education. We don’t need an excess of armed elements, we need an army of high-quality teachers. I believe that it is one of the best ways to prevent crime,” said Valenzuela.

The two activists said that another aspect for the new government to consider is dialogue with the citizens, although they differed on the achievements made in this field by Calderón administration.

While Valenzuela suggested approaching civil society, Chavarría said that “much of society is not represented” in the roundtable discussions with federal officials.

The two mentioned that, until Saturday, no presidential candidate had contacted the organizations they represent to understand their points of view. Read Spanish original.

(Translation by Michael Kane, CIP Americas Program)

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