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Juarez Erupts, Not In Violence, But In Protest

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Juarez Erupts, Not In Violence, But In Protest

Latin America

Juarez Erupts, Not In Violence, But In Protest

Juarez Erupts, Not In Violence, But In Protest

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/133348396/133348361" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Cuidad Juarez has become ground zero for the drug cartel wars in Mexico. This month alone the city has witnessed 200 deaths. The government is trying to promote alternatives to gang life. And Saturday, activists on both sides of the border staged a bi-national protest. They called on the government to demilitarize the city and to end the impunity that seemingly thrives there.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

Ciudad Juarez has become ground zero for the drug cartel wars in Mexico. This month alone the city has witnessed 200 deaths. The government is trying to promote alternatives to gang life, and yesterday activists on both sides of the border staged a bi-national protest. They called on the government to demilitarize the city, and put an end to the impunity that seemingly thrives there.

NPR's John Burnett reports.

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

JOHN BURNETT: The two groups of protestors faced each other across a 12-foot-tall, heavy chain-link fence, where the international land border begins just west of El Paso. Both communities are called Anapra. One is in New Mexico; the other is a suburb of Juarez. Yesterday, their message was indivisible: They will no longer accept the incomprehensible tally of deaths and of disappeared women. The impunity must end.

Unidentified Woman: (Spanish spoken)

BURNETT: Three years into Juarez's long nightmare of lawlessness, the indices are still grim. In the first month of the new year, the city has already witnessed 200 deaths - about seven a day. Last year's death toll surpassed 3,000. Most of the homicide victims are young men believed to be associated with the two drug mafias warring for control of this valuable smuggling corridor. But there are many innocents.

Ms. OLGA ESPARZA: (Spanish spoken)

BURNETT: Olga Esparza was here handing out fliers seeking any information about her beautiful 18-year-old daughter, Monica. She went to business administration class at the local university one day in March 2009 and disappeared without a trace. Her mother says police investigators have no clues, no leads, and no interest in her daughter's case.

This month's fatalities include seven people last Sunday who were sprayed with automatic-weapon fire in a park that was recently built by the government to give young people alternatives to crime. And last week, one of the mayor's own bodyguards was killed in a confrontation with federal police on a dark street. Two federal officers have been arrested in that shooting.

Father Francisco Aquilano, wearing the brown robe of the Franciscan order, smiled wearily as he spoke of trying to maintain his congregation's faith. He says they hold six funerals a month at his church.

Father FRANCISCO AQUILANO (Priest): (Spanish spoken)

BURNETT: What we have to do with our people is encourage hope and keep praying, and counter evil with good. And that's what this is about, he said, gesturing at the animated crowd of protestors.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man: (Singing in Spanish)

BURNETT: About 350 people showed up for the cross-border demonstration, which featured poetry and music broadcast on an American and a Mexican stage. The Mexico crowd was smaller than the New Mexico crowd. Attendees said people in Juarez are afraid to attend protests like this.

Across town, in the Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood, workmen were pouring cement, laying sod, and putting stripes on baseball fields.

(Soundbite of hammering)

BURNETT: They're racing to finish a sprawling sports complex, built with federal money, to be dedicated Monday to the 15 young people who were massacred here exactly a year ago today. The crime horrified the nation. President Felipe Calderon came to Juarez and pledged a campaign of social action, called We Are All Juarez, to try and save more young men from joining drug gangs.

Juarez residents have long complained about feeling abandoned by Mexico City. Jorge Luis Quintanilla was walking his dogs past the new complex with his granddaughter and he was clearly pleased about the addition to his working class neighborhood. But his satisfaction was bittersweet.

Mr. JORGE LUIS QUINTANILLA: (through translator) This is all good, but they didn't have to wait for this tragedy to give us a green space and other things for the community. It's late. They should have done it before, so the young people could have been playing sports instead of getting mixed up in gang things.

BURNETT: An on-site official said this sports complex is one of 23 parks and gymnasiums the federal government is putting in Juarez in hopes that young men will act out their rivalries on the soccer field and not in the streets. But as the recent killings at one of these new parks showed, in Juarez, anything can happen.

John Burnett, NPR News, El Paso.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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