My wife and I had breakfast in Juárez this morning at Sanborns on 16 de Septiembre. What is different about Sanborns is not so much the lack of people. Although it was only about 35-40 percent filled instead of the usual 60-70 percent, what was different was the kind of people and their demeanor. Even a year ago, business, academic, and political elites of Juárez went, among other places, to Sanborns. People had animated conversations. Politicians went from table to table talking to acquaintances. People looked each other in the eyes and smiled, basking in the cheerful atmosphere of a clean well-lighted place where Important People could be found and you could discuss the events of the day with the confident satisfaction that your views were reaching the Right People. Today the conversations were subdued. The usual sets of politicians and businesspeople were missing. Men sat facing the entrance to the room, some of them alone, reading a newspaper. There were a few families at tables with children. Sanborns on Sunday morning has lost its old identity, without having acquired a new one.
I've been in troubled places before. Juárez doesn't feel like a city under a state of siege, with seemingly random arrests of prominent people, where authorities don't trust citizens with opinions of any kind, and can make life miserable with impunity in a heartbeat. In Juárez, except for a tiny strata, the army presence is still barely visible, at least by daylight. Nor does it feel like cities affected by civil war, with troop convoys coming and going to near or distant combat zones. Nor is it like a city in a country that is about to blow up in civil strife, bombs going off at night and sharply polarized views about the legitimacy of the political party setting off the bombs. Compared to these, Juárez is an oasis of tranquility. But make no mistake about it: Juárez is anything but normal.
Right now the most pressing and visible symptom is the economy, not the violence: One out of five persons has lost a job in the last year, due to the global recession. That is depression-level unemployment, translating to a loss of more than 68,000 jobs, with almost 1500 businesses shutting down. Downtown Juarez is now filled to the gills on Sunday morning with street vendors choking up the streets surrounding the major downtown marketplaces. What is new here is the improvised flea markets on several streets where people display old tools, used appliances, old books and magazines, dolls and toys, like a giant garage sale hundreds of yards long with vendors on both sides of the street. Anapra's main street was choked with street vendors as well. This looks more like the poverty levels of El Alto, Bolivia, or the slums of Lima, than it does the Juarez of Foxconn and Delphi, and the Rio Grande mall, just 5 or 6 miles from the Olive Garden restaurant in the Sunland Park Mall.
Yes, the violence continues. A 30-year old man wearing jeans and a white shirt was shot dead in the driveway of his home at 7 p.m. last night near Feldespato and Alumbre in Villa Hermosa. A 17-year old woman, Katia Ivette Pérez Sánchez, was shot to death early in the morning, bullet wounds to the face, abdomen and left leg, the 41st female victim of homicide in Juarez this year. And a 50-year old man died of gunshot wounds outside a grocery store in Melchor Ocampo. Seven spent shells of undisclosed caliber were found near the scene.
Nobody believes any longer that the added troops will contain the bloodshed. Juarenses are just learning to live with it. And a growing minority are learning to live by selling in the formal and informal marketplaces, after putting their old tools and toys and appliances for sale.
I will do an update on the violence in Juarez soon.