CIUDAD JUAREZ – The day was dubbed “Black Thursday” as violence, fear and panic gripped this Mexican border town along El Paso, leaving 11 dead.
On Friday, the city of about 1.5 million people remained quiet as schools switched to online learning. Some gas stations were closed. Others remained open, but with reduced hours. Several shops and supermarkets were closed, a day after some were sprayed with bullets or Molotov cocktails, killing employees and customers.
The bloodshed here followed similar attacks in the central state of Guanajuato, a region that has strong family, economic and cultural ties to North Texas. There, cartel members believed to be part of the Nueva Jalisco Generation cartel, known for their nefarious practices, burned 25 OXXO stores, which are part of Latin America’s largest operator of convenience stores.
The central region of Mexico, known as Bajio, has long been one of the most economically productive areas of the country. It has also been called the heartbeat of automotive and aerospace, with intricate ties to Dallas that include General Motors, Toyota and Honda, among other brands.
On Wednesday, the US Embassy updated its travel advisory for Mexico, issuing warnings for Guanajuato, a popular tourist destination, citing “burning of buildings and vehicles” and saying that “US citizens are reminded to reconsider travel to the state of Guanajuato for because of violence”.
That same night in the western city of Guadalajara, buses, trailers and cars were set on fire to block major roads around the city. The violence essentially paralyzed municipalities across the country, especially Ciudad Juarez, once named one of the most violent cities in North America. But the violence this week represents a challenge, as it was not just a clash between warring cartels, but a direct attack on civilians in the streets.
“A failed state”
“Black Thursday” involved the deaths of four employees at a popular radio station. They were shot while attending a promotional event outside a pizzeria. Among the dead, a well-known radio host, Allan Gonzalez. The National Chamber of Radio and Television condemned the attack on media workers and called on the government to take action.
During his regular press conference Friday morning, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador spoke about the situation in Juarez while also criticizing the media for “attacks,” taking popularity polls to show his approval ratings among Mexicans.
“It’s something that has never happened before and hopefully won’t happen again because innocent civilians were attacked as a kind of revenge,” he said. “It wasn’t just the confrontation between the two groups, they finally started shooting civilians, innocent people, that’s the most unfortunate thing.”
Security experts and journalists on both sides of the border criticized Lopez Obrador and his soft approach to criminal groups, calling his “Hugs, not bullets” policy a joke.
“If this is not a failed state, I don’t know what is,” said Adrian Lopez, publisher of the Noreste newspaper in Culiacan Sinaloa, the birthplace of the Sinaloa cartel, whose former leader Guzman, known as El Chapo, is in USA. federal prison, but whose descendants remain largely in control of what many consider to be the most powerful and sophisticated criminal organizations in Mexico, including in Ciudad Juarez. “The president’s policy is absurd, a lie, a joke.”
“To be fair,” said David Shirk, chair of the Department of Political Science and International Affairs at the University of San Diego and director of the Justice in Mexico program, which produces an annual report on crime and violence in Mexico. López Obrador. the government inherited the “highest level of murder” from his predecessors.
But, Shirk explained, “the real problem is that he hasn’t been able to make much progress reducing violence, despite his supposedly softer, gentler approach of ‘hugs instead of gunfights.’
Shirk added that the reasons are complex, but “in simple terms, it has to do with the fact that violence in Mexico has become more widespread and less concentrated in a small number of places, due to the fragmentation and spread of more regional and local criminals. organizations and greater diversification of criminal activity, moving from drugs to predatory crimes that are more life-threatening to ordinary citizens.”
In Ciudad Juarez, the violence comes from a group known as Los Chapos, linked to the Sinaloa Cartel, and Los Mexicles, linked to La Linea, or the Juarez cartel. Clashes between the two were mostly limited to small outbreaks of targeted violence, until about a month ago, when massacres became the norm again. On Thursday, a prison dispute between rival gangs spiraled out of control in Mexico, leading to street violence in Ciudad Juarez and the deaths of 11 people, including civilians.
“The criminal group ‘Los Mexicles’ began to carry out acts of disturbance and aggression against the civilian population in Ciudad Juárez,” said Ricardo Mejía Berdeja, assistant secretary of public security in Mexico. “Part of the groups that generated these criminal events in different parts of Ciudad Juárez have already been arrested. They have been identified as part of the Mexicles group and have already been handed over to the relevant authorities.”
Critics remain skeptical.
Rocio Gallego, 53, editor of the online publication Juarez, The truth, said what she witnessed Thursday was the result of “a failed policy of 14 years that brought back dark memories,” referring to the drug war in Juarez that began in 2008. “This is the result of impunity. No one but the people of Juarez pay a price.” Gallegos has been a reporter in Juarez for 28 years.
Mexico’s impunity rate remains at more than 95 percent, meaning that less than 5 percent of all crimes are held accountable.
Friday in Juarez felt like a Sunday. Very few cars roamed the streets as thousands of workers stayed away from the maquiladoras, threatening the supply chain. Childcare centers close. The ramifications were felt across the border in El Paso, as Lydia Patterson Private School was closed until further notice. The school is popular with students who commute daily from Juarez.
“I deeply regret the loss of human life in this heinous event against Ciudad Juárez,” Chihuahua Governor Maria Eugenia Campos Galvan said in a statement.
On Friday, Campos met with local, state and federal security experts, including members of the military and national guard. She “reiterated our commitment to work for security and the restoration of peace in Chihuahua.”
Campos said she ordered “the operatives to be immediately deployed in the city. The entire state police force, along with federal and municipal forces, are focused on restoring order and peace. The Juarenses are not alone.”
Meanwhile, Juarense’s routines changed drastically on Friday. Gardeners and maids living in Juarez called their employers in El Paso and asked for a day off. Said Ruth Martinez, who cleans houses on El Paso’s west side, “Criminals reminded us who’s really in charge: them. We are at their mercy.”
And on weekends, which are usually busy for event venues around town, many decided to close their doors to the public.
“Due to the horrific violence taking place in our city, we will be closing our doors tomorrow and until further notice,” said a notice posted Thursday night by Pirros Playground, a children’s party venue in Ciudad Juarez.
Alma Nélida Márquez, a dentist originally from Colima, has lived in Juárez for almost 38 years. She spent weeks planning her nephew José’s second birthday party that was supposed to be held on Friday. Jose and his parents live in Dallas but arrived this week in El Paso to prepare to celebrate, Márquez said.
“It’s very sad, but not because of the holiday. The child is 2 years old, so it doesn’t matter,” said Márquez. “It is sad for our country. All our principles and culture are being lost. We are losing. No one deserves to live in so much fear.”
Special contributor Marisol Chavez reported from Ciudad Juarez