Amid Violence, Juarez Hosts Independence Day Party

The bicentennial celebration of Mexico's independence was called off in Ciudad Juarez last year due to the terrible violence that convulsed the city. This year, though, the party is on. The city will spend more than $400,000 on a massive fiesta that some 60,000 people are expected to attend. The current mayor says authorities have more control over the violence now. But the murders continue on a daily basis, and not all residents say they feel secure.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block. Today is Mexican Independence Day. And in the border city of Juarez this year, the party is on. Last year, Juarez canceled the public celebration of the country's 200th birthday. After four years of brutal drug cartel violence, the city opted out of Mexico's biggest party of the century. Now, there's a new mayor, and while Juarez still has one of the worst murder rates in the Americas, people are tired of hiding. From the public media collaboration Fronteras, Monica Ortiz Uribe reports.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Viva Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Viva.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Viva Juarez.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Viva.

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE: The excitement of hundreds of elementary school kids at an Independence Day celebration in southeast Juarez is electric. Tiny mariachis in fake mustaches and folklorico dancers in full skirts and blue eye shadow shout long live Mexico as is tradition on the eve of the nation's birthday.

TERESA CONTRERAS: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: Teresa Contreras is the director of the school. She says having a celebration helps motivate the families. It's our responsibility, she says, to teach the children good values in spite of the terrible violence that surrounds them. While killings are down in Juarez this year, the murder rate is still far worse than it was four years ago when the drug violence first erupted. Some 1,600 people have died here this year. Nationally, police have arrested a number of cartel bosses, but daily murders, extortion and disappearances continue with impunity.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: At a street corner, a saleswoman sells Mexican flags, noisemakers and revolutionary portraits. Business is brisk, not like last year, she says, when the festivities were canceled and sales were abysmal. One of her clients is Issac Fernandez, the manager of a new bar that opened in a once booming party zone now lined with decaying businesses.

ISSAC FERNANDEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: We see how sad and empty Ciudad Juarez is becoming and decided to open up this business and create jobs, he says. If we continue to be afraid, things won't get better. But not everybody shares his point of view. Another client pulls up, wearing dark glasses and a woven necklace with the image of a saint. His name is Juan Vasquez, and he works for an ad agency. When I ask him how he'll celebrate Independence Day, he says, across the border in El Paso, Texas.

JUAN VASQUEZ: The thing is with the terrible situation happening in Mexico right now, the U.S. is like a safe haven for some Mexicans.

URIBE: It's true. Since the violence began, one Juarez demographer estimates up to 40,000 people have fled the city into the United States. The Mexican consulate in El Paso holds its own Independence Day bash. Last year, 10,000 people attended.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

URIBE: At the site of the Juarez fiesta, workers drill together a massive facade depicting the original church where a patriotic priest cried for independence from Spain 201 years ago. This year, the city has gone all out, spending nearly half a million dollars on everything from security to entertainment. Twenty-six buses have been dispatched across the city to transport people to the festivities. Mayor Hector Murguia stands proudly on the main stage in a crisp white collared shirt.

Mayor HECTOR MURGUIA: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: He says, it's my job to show what this city is about. This city is alive, he says. People go to work every day and try to do better for their families. Murguia says violence is down across the city, and sacrificing the celebration this year is simply unacceptable. For NPR news, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe.

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