I drove to Cd. Juarez this afternoon to see the city now that more than 7000 troops and 2300 federal police have taken over major responsibilities for public safety in this city of 1.5 million.
El Norte reports an 85% drop in major crimes this week, in assaults on businesses, kidnappings, automobile theft, beatings, homicides, and other crimes. In spite of this dramatic downturn, the military presence is extremely light-handed, so far. There are a few pickups, some with military markings, some with municipal police markings, each carrying between two and seven soldiers standing in the bed, patrolling through the streets, but these are intermittent and you can go for several miles without encountering a single one. About ten years ago, when the Zedillo government deployed military units to Juarez on counter-drug-trafficking missions, those troops (just a few hundred) were far more intrusive, since they set up roadblocks randomly throughout the city, stopping traffic to check indentification documents. I've lived temporarily under several military dictatorships and/or states of exception, and Juarez this afternoon is not what martial law usually looks like.
Major thoroughfares are not being patrolled with any frequency, and the tourist hangouts and shopping centers have no visible military presence at all. Traffic police, whether on motorcycles or in cars, are still wearing municipal uniforms, but then it was only this afternoon that Col. Efren Rodriguez Torres took charge of the traffic police, and only 350 soldiers have been assigned duties so far with them. There was a heavy military presence guarding the area of inspection cars coming into Juarez from the U.S., presumably to beef up protection against gun smuggling. But none at the U.S. Consulate building, nor at the major hotels, nor in most of the downtown area. Restaurants are going back to normal hours, after several had decided to close at 8 p.m. earlier this year. Clearly, soldiers assigned to take over municipal police duties have not yet integrated themselves into the day to day operations of many units. When this happens the light-handedness may change.
I expected to see a strong military presence in the Delicias police station neighborhood, since that is the highest crime area in the city, but the only evidence I saw was a pair of pickups, with Aldama Police Station markings, carrying army troops on 16 de Septiembre approaching Avenida Juarez while a civilian stood in one of the pickups taking photographs, presumably of a mission in action. In the red light district at 5:30 p.m. musicians were beginning to show up for the nightclubs. A few young women who looked like they belonged there were darting about chatting with each other amiably and, while not as populated or energetic as I've seen it before on a Friday evening, there was nothing to suggest anything was amiss in that area of town.
In spite of the apparent tranquility, two men were executed last night at about 9 p.m. They were in a late-model black Dodge Nitro at an intersection, when a man approached the vehicle on foot and began shooting through the window on the driver's side at the two men in the vehicle. Both men opened their doors to try to escape the fusillade, but both fell to the ground, bleeding. One was declared dead at the scene and the other died after arriving at the Social Security Hospital. These were the first executions registered since the armed forces took over the city last Monday. They were almost certainly members of the "Artistas Asesinos" gang, since one of the victims had a tatoo associated with that gang, of faces with laughter and with tears. Members of this gang and the "Los Mexicles" gang were the subjects of an attack a few weeks ago by the "Azteca" gang during an uprising that broke out when the Azteca gang took over a portion of the prison. Twenty people died in the ensuing riot.
Sam's in Juarez, by the way, has an excellent selection of Rioja, French, Malbec from Argentina, and Chilean wines, for reasonable prices, and they take U.S. Sam's cards and credit cards.