El Paso And Juarez: Shared Border, Shared Troubles
RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
In Mexico, what began as a government effort to wipe out drug lords four years ago has turned into a long war with the death toll now at a staggering 23,000. It's a brutal fight involving massacres, beheadings, bodies hanging from bridges, and the killing of innocents.
Politicians are favorite targets of the cartels. In Mexico's recent election, one candidate for governor, considered a shoo-in to win, was assassinated. And several mayors have been killed.
We're going to hear now from two mayors - mayors who live on opposite sides of the border but who are in many respects partners, their cities separated in places by only a few hundred feet and the Rio Grande. Mayor John Cook of El Paso and Mayor Jose Reyes of Juarez are on the line from their respective offices.
Welcome to both of you.
JOHN COOK: It's good to be on the show.
JOSE REYES: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: I'm going to start with you, Mayor Reyes, because so much of the headlines are referring to the Mexican side of the border. And in one recent week in Juarez over 60 murders were reported. I've read that the toll since 2008 is around 5,000 deaths.
What is it like trying to manage a city with that level of violence?
REYES: It's very difficult. What is happening in Juarez and El Paso, both cities are so well connected logistically towards the United States - they are the center of trade between Mexico and the United States - therefore Juarez is very important for those in the business of sending drugs into the United States. And there's a very big fight over the route that initiates in Juarez. And that's the main reason for all those killings.
And of course having that war between those groups of organized crime in our city makes managing the city very, very difficult.
MONTAGNE: Well, also, you're in an unusual position for a mayor. I mean, you read stories - there was a mayor from another city that was killed in Juarez while he was escaping from the cartels that were inflicting violence on his city.
REYES: Yes. Because we managed to go from 1,600 police officers patrolling the city more than two years ago to about 11,000 people patrolling the city now, the flow of drugs have gone east towards the two neighboring cities, one of them called Guadalupe.
Unfortunately, the mayor of Guadalupe was killed about three or four weeks ago, one of the good guys fighting the drug cartels doing this business along the border. It's very sad for all of us.
MONTAGNE: And Mayor Cook, El Paso's City Hall days ago took some bullets coming over from Juarez, I gather.
COOK: Well, we think that those rounds may have come from there. But they haven't finished the ballistics test. But it was important for something like that to happen in El Paso, because very often we can look at what's happening minutes away in our neighboring city and think of it as being someone else's problem.
There's probably been millions of rounds fired in Juarez in the last two years and for only seven bullets to have reached the United States I think is remarkable.
MONTAGNE: Well, then is it the case that people in El Paso feel pretty safe?
COOK: I would hate to generalize how everybody in El Paso feels, but I think it would something like this. You know, our hearts go out to our neighbors in Juarez. Many of us have relatives that live over there; family members, business associates. We're used to traveling there very frequently when the border was peaceful. But on this side of the border, yes, we do feel extremely safe and extremely confident that the violence is not going to spread over.
MONTAGNE: I'm going to put this to you, Mayor Reyes. There was an uproar in Juarez last month, when an U.S. Border Patrol agent in El Paso shot across the border and killed a 15-year-old Juarez boy.
How do the two of you respond to something like that, something that's seen one way probably on the Mexico side and another maybe on the U.S. side?
FERRIZ: Well, it's very important the way the reaction of the governments were. Mayor Cook immediately called upon the Border Patrol in the United States. I invited different agencies in Mexico - the federal police, the state police and my local police. A few days later, we had a meeting in Mayor Cook's office to discuss this.
We didn't discuss whether there was culpability or not on the Border Patrol agent. We really - that has to be solved by the FBI and other investigative agencies. But we went ahead and took decisive action to prevent this thing from happening again.
MONTAGNE: And, Mayor Cook, how often do you talk?
COOK: Well, you know, Mayor Reyes and I both have each others cell phone numbers. We don't hesitate to use them. He even has one of his staff as a resident in my office - next to mine, as a matter of fact. And I think both of us would agree that the border between El Paso and Juarez doesn't separate us. It joins us together socially, culturally and economically. So there has to be a lot of communication.
MONTAGNE: Well, one last question for you, Mayor Reyes. Your term is up in October. Your successor has already been elected. How do you feel about leaving this job? A lot of us out here might think you'd be breathing a sigh of relief.
FERRIZ: Yes, a very difficult job. And when you have a job like that, you really do think about having a good vacation.
MONTAGNE: Well, also though in your case, I can't believe you haven't feared for your life.
FERRIZ: Yeah, it's always a consideration. And the threats that have been made we don't take lightly at all.
MONTAGNE: Jose Reyes is the mayor of Juarez in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico. John Cook is the mayor of El Paso, Texas. Thank you both very much for joining us.
COOK: Oh, you're welcome.
FERRIZ: Thank you, Renee.
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