Tag Archives: Ciudad Jaurez

Dispatches from Juarez

24 Jun

Ciudad Juarez, the epicenter of Mexico’s drug war and a major industrial hub and border crossing, is a surreal place.   Old American school buses painted over with white chug through this gritty town transporting hundreds of workers from the slums where they live to the massive factories, or maquiladores, that have sprung up in recent post-NAFTA years.  The army has taken over the town, and caravans of young soldiers with machine guns and rocket launchers patrol the streets, setting up road blocks and searching houses at random.

There are several factors at work in this city, and the combination of all of them has created a violent, lawless, center of urban  sprawl.  Migration, drug traficking, cartels, gangs, industrialization, and overpopulation are just a few of the problems here in Juarez.  Yet for all the negative things people say about it, I have been pleasantly surprised by much of what I see here.  For the most part, things here have been normal for me, except for the occacional brush with the army (they did come search the house I was staying at for guns and I happened to answer the door to an armed troop of soldiers in what was a seemingly peaceful suburb).

I am currently volunteering at a migrant shelter, La Casa del Migrante, a few kilometers from the border.  We mostly receive Mexicans who have been deported but we also get a few Central Americans who have come up on the train and on their way to the states.  It is both awe-inspiring and heartbreaking to talk to these guys and watch their faces as they come in every day.

Yesterday I met Alvaro, a young guy from Hondurous, who had left home with a little less then $100 and survived for three weeks on the train.  The Southern border is infamous for being controlled by las Mara, a ruthless gang that likes to murder young migrants with machetes, rape women, and extortion the poor families of the Central Americans they catch by kidnapping their victims and calling home to ask for money.  Alvaro told me he was once shot at, and saw many others falling off the train.  Another time, the Mexican migration (or las Mara pretending to be Mexican migration) rounded up about 80 of them and was placing them in a holding cell, but Alvaro somehow escaped with one other guy and ran off in the woods.  When I think about all he has been through, it blows my mind.  He is only 19.  His English is amazingly  good for having only spent one year in the states. I think he was deported but he just tells me he went back home to see his Mom.  He tells me he’s going to New Orleans, and I sure hope he gets there.

When I asked Alvaro which border was more dangerous, the southern one or the nothern one, he said he wasn’t sure.  They are both a living hell, he says.