Controversial Ex-Juarez Mayor Returns To Office

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The violent Mexican border city of Juarez has a new mayor. Well, not exactly new. Hector Murguia was mayor three years ago, and was re-elected this summer. Shortly after his last administration ended, U.S. customs agents arrested his former police director and later convicted him on drug charges.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Now to the story of another Mexican mayor, a popular and controversial one. Hector Murguia is mayor of the violent border city of Juarez. He's a lifelong resident who comes from a big business family.

And as Monica Ortiz Uribe reports, there are suggestions he may be linked to organized crime.

Mayor HECTOR MURGUIA (Juarez, Mexico): (Foreign language spoken)

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE: Hector Murguia was sworn in as the mayor of Juarez in a crowded college gymnasium on Sunday.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

URIBE: His forehead gleamed under the stage lights as he drank in the cheering crowd, rarely relaxing the giant smile on his face. Murguia is known throughout Juarez as El Teto, short for Hector. He brilliantly markets himself as a man of the people. All around town, there are photos of him hugging a grandmother. He holds political rallies in the most marginalized neighborhoods and invites potential voters up to the stage with him to dance.

At the swearing-in ceremony, his diehard fans showed up in the thousands.

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of applause)

URIBE: Teto is the first in Juarez to be re-elected as mayor. In Mexico, it's against the law to serve two consecutive terms. Teto's first administration was from 2004 to 2007. Despite his magnetic personality, business leaders and social activists say there is another side to Teto. They characterize his last term as authoritarian and secretive. Even more severe are questions about possible links to organized crime.

Three months after Teto left office, his former police director, Saulo Reyes Gamboa, was arrested by U.S. authorities after he bribed an undercover cop into allowing drugs across the border. Reyes Gamboa was convicted and sentenced to more than eight years in federal prison.

Mayor MURGUIA: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: Teto vehemently denies any links to organized crime. At a recent lunch meeting with Mexican journalists, he said he comes from a hardworking family. We may not be perfect, he said, but we are certainly not drug traffickers.

Ms. ROSARIO VALADEZ(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: People living in the poor outskirts of Juarez don't seem concerned about corruption in Teto's last administration. Rosario Valadez is a housewife with a life-sized cardboard image of Teto in her yard.

Ms. VALADEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: Valadez says Teto's campaign workers brought neighbors packages with flour, sugar, cooking oil and coffee. She said they've also received bags of concrete and gotten help paying traffic tickets and water bills.

Valadez says Teto help children with disabilities get into local schools, something their parents struggle with.

Unidentified Child: I'm going to go get cookies.

Mayor JOHN COOK (El Paso, Texas): Okay.

URIBE: Across the border in El Paso, Mayor John Cook watches his granddaughter run past his office at City Hall. He said the fact that Teto's police director was involved in drug trafficking is not surprising. One of Mexico's biggest problems is that government is commonly infiltrated by organized crime. Even so, Cook plans on having a close working relationship with Teto.

Mayor COOK: I, for one, am going to give him the opportunity to prove that he is joining in this fight against the war on drugs.

URIBE: Two days before he took office, Teto said he wants to improve on his last administration. He promises to be more tolerant and humble. On top of his agenda is security followed by jobs.

Mayor MURGUIA: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: I think Juarez represents the most important challenge in all of Mexico, he said. The eyes of the world are on Juarez.

For NPR News, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe.

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