I spent most of the day in Juarez. I had three things to do in three different parts of the city, so I traveled to or through many areas of town. It may simply be my imagination, but I sensed something different since I was there in August: while still cautious, people seemed more relaxed, more confident, more likely to look at each other in the face--all over town.
The statistics certainly don't justify this change: the homicide rate continues unabated; it will almost certainly hit a record this year. Extortion continues to plague small business owners throughout the city, every day. Evidence of police corruption continues to be recorded in the daily newspapers. The Valle de Juarez is a no-man's land. President Calderon got an earful of complaints during his visit to Juarez on Tuesday. And given the record numbers of street vendors on hand at the Santa Fe Bridge on the way back and the large number of used wardrobes being sold on the streets near residential areas it looks like unemployment is still high.
But the feeling of the town seemed different, at least to me, as though a corner had been turned. In fact, at the beginning of Eje Juan Gabriel, near 16 de Septiembre and Avenida Juarez, a crowded, high crime (at night) part of town I thought I detected a kind of un-self-conscious pride reflected in the faces and gait of the pedestrians. Instead of the gritty, frightened faces and hurried pace, there was confidence, relaxation, as though to say, "we will survive this, too." It reminded me of the look on peoples' faces in San Salvador, in many areas of town, a full four years before the peace when it became clear to them the guerrillas would not win the war and the business class simply stopped paying "war taxes" to the guerrillas.
What could possibly account for this? My take: we know a lot more about the hows and whys of violence in Juarez than we did six months ago. We know more about relationships between governments (state, local, and federal) and between government and citizens, government and drug organizations; about the civil war within law enforcement; about how to deal with extortionists. The analysis in newspapers today is far more to the point than the hand-wringing, blame-it-on the evils-of-our-own society and culture or the personal finger-pointing that filled the opinion columns a year ago. Confucius said the beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.
Another possible factor: in recent weeks the newspapers have been filled with stories about citizens banding together in various ways, sometimes spontaneously, without the help of law enforcement to respond to extortion on their own. Could greater understanding about the environment combined with the inner satisfaction of taking some matters into one's own hands have a healthy impact on the collective psyche? I hope it was this, and not just a temporary lull or the overactive imagination of a visitor in town on a warm fall Saturday afternoon.