Humans could be defined by our ability to make inhumane conditions completely human. Violence, poverty, or the unjust flavor of the month weigh down on the collective, and our ability to carry on squeezes back up through the cracks.
In my first of two trips to Juarez, that was what I saw in my photos: people getting on with it. The shadow of violence was everywhere. Tension radiated off roadblocks like heat from Phoenix blacktop in August. The army and local and national police, all armed with machine guns, tore through the city in the back of pickup trucks. Missing persons posters wallpapered the streets. And people got on with it.
Juarez’s problems today can be traced to the 2006 presidential elections. Despite polling irregularities, Felipe Calderon was declared the victor by one-half of a percent. In what many took to be a move to show strength in the face of domestic opposition, Calderon declared war on Mexico’s drug cartels, mobilizing thousands of troops from Mexico’s army. The move was a reversal from what had been mostly inaction on the part of the government.
No other city shows the effects of Calderon’s war like Juarez. National and local police had always been expected to supplement their low incomes through bribes and shakedowns. Now, with the presence of the army, there’s another armed group in on the cut. The popular belief is each of the armed branches of the government is in some part owned by one of the cartels.
The city’s proximity to the US border makes it an immensely valuable asset to control. The Sinaloa and Juarez cartels are considered the major players in the city, while numerous rival street gangs contribute to the already obscene amounts of violence and danger.
Those who know it best have called the city a graveyard. The murder rate is staggering. You almost have to wonder how there are any people left to kill. In 2010 there were 3,100 murders. That’s an average of 8.5 per day.