Leaders hope to shine positive light on often ‘misunderstood’ border

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EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Mexico’s drug violence and the humanitarian crisis brought about by last year’s migrant surge have given the world a slanted view of the border, local officials say.

Their hope is that two ongoing binational events will set people straight while strengthening an already friendly and dynamic relationship.

The first is a North American mayors’ summit going on this week in El Paso. The other is the upcoming completion of the “Paseo de las Luces,” or “Path of Lights” that will lead American visitors to the heart of Downtown Juarez, which Mexican officials are trying to turn into the equivalent of a U.S. “green zone.”

“We all know that the U.S.-Mexico border often gets vilified, often gets misunderstood by people both on the left and the right politically. We need to make sure we do everything we can to correct those things,” said El Paso City Rep. Peter Svarzbein, co-chair of the Mexico-U.S. Sister City Mayors Summit.

This week’s gathering gives 300 influential out-of-town visitors the opportunity to see a border region in which thousands from one country take a short hop across the border every day to work, shop or see family members. The guests include San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg, Sister Cities International President Leroy R. Allala and a host of other dignitaries and diplomats.

“It’s about bringing people from other parts of the United States and from Mexico to see all the good things that are happening, to see the reality of economy and culture shared by our two cities,” Svarzbein said.

A few years ago, El Paso started a lighted pathway from its Downton to the Mexican border in hopes that one day Juarez would build its own and residents from both cities could walk back and forth day or night.

The current Mayor of Juarez has taken up the challenge and on Wednesday announced the “Path of Lights” would be completed by April. Public works crews have already replaced the sidewalks of Juarez Avenue with pavestone from the Santa Fe Bridge gateway to just a couple of blocks short of their Downtown.

Buildings and shops are being repainted; the setting of lighting, benches and trees will follow, Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada said.

He said his city is investing $2.8 million in the improvements and the rehabilitation of the City Market, once a magnet for tourists but now little more than a decaying shell along 16th of September Avenue.

The physical improvements will be followed by the establishment of a bilingual tourist-area police force, the installation of more panic buttons and closed-circuit cameras. That follows earlier initiatives to rid Downtown Juarez of drug dealers and tear down houses of prostitution.

“Our region has several advantages over many other places. I know that is difficult to understand by people who don’t live here or don’t know us in depth. That leads people who live a thousand miles from here make erroneous decisions that affect our community,” Cabada said.

Tanny Berg, founding member of El Paso’s Central Business Association, said there’s no hiding the violence in Juarez, but that’s not all that can be found south of the border.

“Of course we are going to touch on sadly the violence, but also the economic development that’s going on there,” Berg said.

He said El Paso still depends to a great degree on Mexican shoppers — who used to flock to Downtown El Paso before, but now patronize commercial establishments throughout the city.

“They used to shop only in the Downtown area but many, many shoppers now go to the Cielo Vista Mall area, Target, Walmart or Sam’s. They go to Ross or Marshall’s wherever they may be,” Berg said. “We see vehicles with Juarez or Chihuahua license plates and the idea is to be friendly to them, be the ambassadors for this country for all those people who come here to shop.”

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