What's going on in Juarez?

It’s quiet in Juarez right now, a US counter-drug official tells me. The Sinaloa cartel has won the war for Juarez, another US official told the Associated Press. Some 5,000 federal police have taken over the streets from the army, the administration tells us. The development secretariat (SEDESOL) is pushing for the creation of new parks in the city in its bid for social reconstruction. Three human rights lawyers have come out and declared that femicides have actually increased since the arrival of the army in 2008. Local newspapers report the killings are continuing (an ex-cop on Tuesday, among them) and that there were 6 people killed yesterday – hardly evidence that it’s really all that quiet.

So what’s going on? I’m not there, so I can’t really tell you with any real accuracy (and even if I was there, there are so many nooks and crannies in that city that there will never be any way of knowing completely what’s going on). But for starters: there are plenty of officials and analysts denying Chapo’s takeover, for a start. It’s just not that clear-cut, they say – it will take a while for this to smooth over, as the recent killings show.

Fair enough, we know the AP went with its “SInaloa wins in Juarez” story because that’s what you do when you get a quote like that.

Then there’s the arrival of the federal police. From my understanding, we won’t see major warfare in Juarez for a little while. The reason is that the narcos are watching the federales, figuring out how they operate and figuring out how to get around their new checkpoints, patrols etc. This happens every times the army or federal police come to a city; it usually doesn’t take more than a week or two for the narcos to figure out ways around the new system. After all, the authorities are routine-oriented (that’s how they’re trained) and are also easily infiltrated. (The last time I was in Juarez, the army had to abandon plans for a raid because the major’s classified briefing – with two other people – had been leaked within minutes. Not sure how many heads rolled after that one, but I assume at least two.)

So we can expect a drop in drug trafficking and violence for the next week or so. Six homicides yesterday doesn’t bode well for the so-called “drop” that I’m predicting, however.

As for the creation of parks, I’m all for it. I’ve seen some of the parks that narcos have taken over in Juarez, and residents need these public spaces to live somewhat peaceful lives. However, parks are not the solution to places like Rancho Anapra, where residents live in what are effectively hillside settlements. These areas need constant police patrols by police the residents can trust. They need jobs, in the settlements themselves, if possible, to create a sense of community. They need health facilities and in some parts, the basics – running water, for instance. They need to break up the gangs, which are the roots of Los Aztecas on the Juarez side. It’s all idealistic, I know, but it’s better than parks – because those parks will not be built in neighborhoods like Rancho Anapra, I pretty much guarantee it.

Re femicides rising since the army came, I actually doubt that claim – or at least, doubt these activists have any proof of it. However, there is no doubt that women in Juarez continue to have no security or rights at all. This has to be addressed by the government in its reconstruction plan. A special police force (not just prosecuting team) has to be set up to protect women. Those thousands of women who bus back and forth to the maquiladoras have to have constant protection. There are so many little things the government could do. They may not work, but jesus, at least they’d be trying something instead of pretending everything’s ok.

Oh, and last but not least, there is apparently a new plan to open up a trading zone between Juarez and El Paso, through which trucks will be able to pass without any inspections. I don’t know the details of this at all, but it doesn’t sound like it will help crack down on the drug flow in any way.