JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — A Mexico City think-thank is ranking Juarez as the second most dangerous city in the world.
Juarez earned such distinction from the Citizens Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice for its homicide rate of 104 per 100,000 inhabitants, second only to Tijuana at 134.
But, is the city across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas really a place where your life hangs by a thread?
The answer depends on where you live and what you do for a living, according to several leaders interviewed this week by Border Report.
“I go to Juarez every day as do many friends of mine who run businesses over there. The reality is that, outside of certain problematic areas, you’re not going to get carjacked, your home is not going to be broken into,” says Juan Acereto, a former Mexican diplomat.
He pointed to the massive, uneventful daily movement of people back and forth across the border before the coronavirus hit. That included professionals from El Paso who work at the U.S.-run factories in Juarez and U.S. residents regularly visiting their older relatives south of the border.
The survey “is completely erroneous. It’s not fair to the hard-working people of Juarez, to the great industry we have here or to people who go about their business every day,” he said.
Though mostly closed now due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of medical, dental and optometrists’ offices line the streets adjacent to border crossings linking Juarez to El Paso.
These providers for years have attracted and earned the trust of residents of the Southwestern United States. These tourists largely come and go without ever being victims of crime, says Lorenzo Soberones, head of the medical cluster at the Juarez Chamber of Commerce.
“Almost all of the violent acts here are related to drugs and other (organized crime) activity. You hardly hear of people being robbed on the streets or businesses getting broken into,” he said.
So who murdered nearly 1,500 people in Juarez last year and took the lives of another 125 just in the month of May?
Jorge Nava, the state of Chihuahua’s deputy attorney general, says between 85 to 90 percent of Juarez’s murders were drug-related and committed in three large working-class swaths of the city. Those include drug-staging areas into the United States located in the southeastern part of the city, some crowded neighborhoods near the Downtown area and impoverished neighborhoods in the northwest near the U.S. border and the mountains of Juarez.
He said murders have spiked in the past year and a half due to renewed fighting among the drug cartels for control of the drug-staging areas as well as the growing domestic sales market. He attributes recent violence to groups breaking up when their leaders are captured or killed, and others trying to take over.
A single gang, for instance, is being blamed by authorities for more than 100 murders. State police last month arrested Jose Dolores Villegas Soto, a.k.a. The Iraqi, under suspicion of committing or ordering 50 murders.
They followed up with the arrest of Omar Alfredo O.A., also known as “El Fredy,” an alleged hitman suspected of 60 murders. They also have a juvenile in custody nicknamed “Tun-Tun” as the suspected killer of 12 people and accomplice in 30 other murders.
All three have been linked to La Empresa gang and all their victims are suspected of being either in the drug trade or bystanders.
Such was the case of a National Geographic reporter who got shot in the leg last year while trying to interview a drug dealer near the Juarez Airport, Nava said. Both El Fredy and Tun-Tun allegedly went to that safe house to kill a rival, which they did.
“We have made important arrests in the month of May and we expect to see the (homicide) rates come down in June as a result,” Nava said on Tuesday.
An American, New York resident Patrick Landers, was killed earlier this year while driving around Juarez with his Mexican girlfriend, Karla Baca. Landers’ Jeep was riddled by up to 30 bullets. Most of the visible bullet holes appeared aimed at the passenger’s seat where Baca, a P.E. teacher
Nava said the culprits haven’t been arrested yet but he expects to make an announcement on the case in two weeks or so.