Crime in Juarez: It's not just for the bad guys any more
By Rich Wright
Posted on July 5, 2008
Margarita comes and cleans my house. Every two weeks. I've got two teenagers. They've got friends. None of them even know how to carry a dirty dish to the sink.
Margarita lives in Juarez. Near downtown. In the neighborhood by the old jail. Violence is rife there. Margarita says that the streets used to be busy with kids playing and people hanging out till midnight. Now the streets are deserted by eight. Last week a sixteen year old got shot down in his doorway. The word on the street is that he was a hoodlum. A drug dealer. A gang-banger, taken to assaulting his neighbors.
Another neighbor got shot in the neighborhood last week, too, gunned down by a passing car. He was, as far as is known, just an addict. Not a dealer. Not a thug. Guilty, as far as anyone on the outside knows, only of a lifestyle crime.
Last weekend a burrera, a lady who sells burritos, got gunned down at her burrito stand. That was Friday, at Burritos Gaby, in a row of kiosks at the corner of Mejia and Mariscal. Saturday I ate a bean burrito at Burritos Meny, the one next to Burritos Gaby. I'd read about the murder of the burrera, but in the stream of violent crime reported daily in the media, I'd somehow remembered it happening earlier in the week. So there I was Saturday, slopping salsa on my bean and cheese, fifteen feet and twelve hours from the scene of violent and sudden death. Gaby's was shuttered last Saturday, but today they're serving burritos through the window again. The back door opens onto the rubble of a newly vacant lot. The air smells of chile roasting on a comal.
The bulk of violent crime in Juarez used to be confined to a certain circle, deadbeats who owed unsurmountable sums because of lost loads, or freelancers who tried to skirt the dope tax imposed by the cartel. These were the bodies found wrapped in blankets, or dug up from the yards of nondescript houses.
But now the violence in Juarez is percolating through the socioeconomic strata. Kidnappings, like the one that happened to Sylvester Reyes' sister-in-law/relative/friend/acquaintance, are more common. Businesses are getting torched. And street level dope dealers are getting wasted.
There are two Mexicos. One is populated by the very rich. Some own houses by the Campestre that make the houses in Beverly Hills look like shacks in the colonia. Full time gardening crews scurry from shrub to shrub, clipping and teasing the flora to Disneylandesque perfection. Other estates are shielded by walls five meters high, with solid metal gates and uniformed guards behind thick glass windows, like drive-through bank tellers.
At the other extreme are the poorest of the poor, and just above them, the laborers and the girls who work in maquilas for single-digit dollars a day. Of course, there's a whole smear of humanity between these two extremes. The Mexican Dream is not so different from the American Dream. Hard work and ambition can take you places in Mexico, too. Entrepreneurship is rife, too. A Mexican work day, especially in a big city like Juarez, is often eighteen hours of hustle, scuttling from one meager opportunity to another, turning a peso wherever a peso can be turned.
The trades are one channel of advancement. Automotive trades are more richly rewarded because they require a level of capital investment, but a skilled carpenter or cement worker can earn an honest living. And so far wage laborers aren't getting kidnapped.
Merchants, on the other hand, have fallen victim to the newest crime wave in Juarez. Silver's sister-in-law/relative/friend/acquaintance owned an auto glass shop. Kidnappings aren't often reported, because reporting kidnappings doesn't usually do any good. Stories of kidnappings are usually anecdotal, with the friend-of-a-friend history common to urban legends. Victims don't want to discuss the event after the fact for fear of retribution or repetition. So people get kidnapped and ransoms get paid and life goes on.
Crime is percolating through the socioeconomic strata. Kidnappings used to be relatively rare in Juarez, compared to other big cities in Mexico, like Tijuana or the Distrito Federal. In Mexico City, visitors have to get buzzed into even a modest workshop. Taxis are dicey propositions. But kidnappings are on the rise in Juarez now, as the opportunity to make an easy buck dealing drugs increases in risk with an often fatal payoff. Protection rackets are shaking down legitimate businesses. And the relatively secure middle class is feeling the pangs of the economic contractions and dislocations in the criminal world.
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