SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
People are partying again in Juarez, Mexico, just over the border from El Paso, Texas. Juarez suffered years of horrific violence - hundreds of women working in factories there were murdered in the 1990s. Then came the violent turf wars between drug cartels. The city's once thriving nightlife ground to a halt, but now it is back. NPR's Mandalit del Barco went club hopping and sent this report.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: In downtown Juarez, at a seafood restaurant called Pisces, I meet up with Nelson Armeto.
Hi, how are you?
NELSON ARMETO: Great.
DEL BARCO: Nelson runs the family restaurant with his brothers. Like other business owners in Juarez, they met with trouble beginning in 2008 when the drug cartels began demanding a monthly extortion fee.
ARMETO: We receive a call telling us that we had to pay the quota otherwise, you know, we can get the business burnt down, you know, a car, you know, passing by, you know, shooting up the place. Even they threatened to kidnapping us, the business owners, and even sometimes killing the employees.
DEL BARCO: With so many narcotraficante threats day and night, most people just stopped going out in Juarez.
VELIA CONTRERAS: (Speaking Spanish).
DEL BARCO: The fear, the terror, not a soul on the streets, recalls longtime Pisces patron Velia Contreras. With the death toll mounting, most restaurants and clubs closed down or moved across the border to El Paso. But after a few years of this, Nelson says he and his friends became numb to the violence. They decided to start going out on the town like they used to.
ARMETO: YOLO, you know, you only live once. That's kind of a religion where you really, you know, go out and each day, you know, you live it the most that you can. So if you don't have a memory from that day, it's a wasted day.
DEL BARCO: So let's go.
ARMETO: Oh, yeah, OK.
DEL BARCO: This is not something I would've done four years ago, but with Nelson and his party posse, we head out to Avenida Juarez, just blocks from the border crossing. It's now dotted with bars and clubs - some new, others newly reopened. The oldest and most famous, the Kentucky Club, lost business, but managed to stay open.
AURORA SILVA: (Singing in Spanish).
DEL BARCO: Aurora Silva and her Mariachi Imperial are performing covers of hometown favorite Juan Gabriel. The club is so packed we have to squeeze past the band to get to the bar for a margarita.
JUAN FERNANDEZ: Cheers.
DEL BARCO: Cheers.
FERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).
DEL BARCO: Now that Juarez is once again a party town, this where I bump into Juan Fernandez, a member of Colectivo Wagon, an artist collective.
FERNANDEZ: I don't know if the city's less or more violent. What I know is I'm not afraid anymore, you know? I'm not afraid of being outside and walking to my house. Probably two or three years ago it was different, but - now probably the city's the same, but I feel different.
DEL BARCO: No one can say for sure why the violence diminished. There are lots of theories - one drug cartel gained control. Local police became militarized. The violence just moved on to a different part of Mexico. After taking a selfie outside the Kentucky Club, we head to Tres Mentiras on another avenue that is once again alive at night. Live bands play banda at the Tres Mentiras. It's now illegal for narcocorrido bands to go onstage with AK-47s, singing about the exploits of the drug lords.
On our way out, we pass a tough-looking private security guard with an automatic rifle - something you see a lot of in Juarez. That may be another reason people feel safer going out, though all that weaponry is unnerving.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in Spanish).
DEL BARCO: Before the night's over, we hit up four more clubs playing electronic and hip-hop. We see teenagers from El Paso, college students from all over the world and many, like Nelson and his friends, who just want to party like it's 2007. But Nelson says they do have one fear - getting stopped by the police.
ARMETO: They are looking for every minor infraction. I mean, they are going to try to bribe us. Every time we go out, I mean, that's the number one concern that we have.
DEL BARCO: Police bribes - the mordida - that's a tradition that began long before the narco wars. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
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