No ‘Gringos’ in Juarez as Drug War Scares Off Tourists

No ‘Gringos’ in Juarez as Drug War Scares Off Tourists

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JUAREZ, Chihuahua, Mex.—It is six o’clock in the evening on a Mexican holy day and the Kentucky bar is almost empty. In a room with capacity for over a hundred customers, only four people are sitting at the bar. All of them long time customers.

The bar, one of the oldest in the city, with a claim to being the birthplace of the Margarita. There are still original mirrors and a wood frame that, according to the bartender, was imported from Louisiana and belonged to a luxury steam boat that roamed up and down the Mississippi.

“We used to be busy most weekends and have regulars during the week. But they are not coming anymore,’’ said the bartender, who agreed to talk to a visitor but declined to give his full name. He declined also to indicate if the place, like hundreds around the city that are still open, complies with the “quota,” a ransom payment collected every week, or month, by members of organized crime. But the bartender freely confirmed what was self-evident. “No more gringos.” At least for now.

According to the Juarez Chamber of Commerce, close to 50 percent of the businesses in the city closed last year, due to the demands of the quota. The big companies moved to El Paso.

For the past two years the U.S. State Department has been issuing warnings to American travelers that Juarez is not a safe place to visit. Word of mouth and common sense had dissuaded many of El Paso’s locals from traveling into Juarez in search of a good time.

Just last weekend, two minors, American citizens who lived in Juarez, were killed while shopping at a used-car lot. Their family members insist the boys--who commuted daily to a Catholic boys' high school in El Paso--had nothing to do with drugs.

A Mounting Crisis

From its very beginnings, Juarez had been a haven for U.S. nationals to visit. Everything illegal on the United States side was available in Juarez and it was relatively cheap. Founded in 1659 and known first as “El Paso del Norte,” Juarez quickly became famous for being the easiest way for travelers going north and south of El Rio Grande, toward the southern Rocky Mountains.

In 1848, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which established the Rio Grande as the border between Mexico and the United States, “El Paso del Norte” got divided. But the southern side of the city flourished and gained its actual name in 1888, in honor of Benito Juarez, a Mexican President. The building where Juarez set up his headquarters is still standing, but pretty much, like large areas of the city, it is in decay, its significance long forgotten by most.

Just like many other border towns along the U.S.-Mexican border, Juarez's fortunes depended on the economic and political conditions of the United States. During the Prohibition years of the 1920s and 1930s, U.S. nationals traveled south to load themselves, literally, with alcohol.

From the ’30s to the ’40s, they visited the town for sex. In the ’50s to mid-60s Juarez became famous for as the “capital,’’ of the divorcios al vapor, a legal proceeding in which a divorce proceedings could be arranged in a matter of hours. But the glamour years were the 1970s, with then-popular discos.

“Avenida Juarez was so packed that people couldn’t even walk,’’ remembers Abel Martinez, a taxi driver in his late 50s, who now complains that he feels lucky if he can make $20 a day, half of it to be spent on gas for another journey.

“There were lots of gringos and gringas coming to have fun,’’ he adds with nostalgia.

But all that changed with the drug-cartel violence of the past four years.

“We see an average of two-to-three gringo customers a week,’’ said Ruben Cazares, owner of a small arts and crafts shop in the also once-famous Mercado Juarez.

Inaugurated in 1945, the market was a regular stop for tourists who crossed the border in search of Mexican art or cheap decorative home artifacts.

“Things began to get critical about three or four years ago, when all the violence began. Things are so bad that about two-thirds of the owners in the Mercado gave up are trying to find work somewhere else,’’ said the 74-year-old man, who start working here when he was 14.

The aisles of the market are empty. So is the parking lot. The few shop owners still tending their shops spend their time chatting with each other and taking time to dust off their merchandise.

Politicians’ Empty Promises

Shortly before the November elections for governor, the merchants got the promise that the whole market will have a makeover and that an advertising campaign will be launch to attract tourists. But like so many other government promises, nothing has happened.

“Nothing is for sure right now. They [representatives from the new state government administration] came and walked around and said they really wanted to preserve this place, but after they left we have not heard from them,’’ said Cazares.

Other shop owners gather around after quickly learning that “un periodista extranjero” [a foreign journalist] was interviewing people.

They seemed cautious about their comments, but like most of the population in Juarez, they said there is no need to start a war against the drug cartels. Some even remark that the government made a “great mistake,” since the cartels had been a source of income for the country for decades.

“Now, you don’t know who you are dealing with. Strangers just show up and demand money in exchange of protection,’’ said a man of about 45, who inherited the business from his father. When pressed if he, or any other shop owners, had been asked for the quota, he laughed.

“Of course not. They can see that there is nothing here for them to get. I am sure they might even be afraid that if they come in here we might ask them for some money, not as ransom, just as charity,’’ said the man, who would only say his name was “Ruben.”

 

Comments

 
Anonymous

Posted Feb 14 2011

Marijuana doesn't cause cancer, heart disease, brain damage, liver disease, emphysema, or overdoses, and its addictive potential is about on par with coffee. The DEA is 100% misinformed when it calls marijuana "extremely harmful".

The marijuana prohibition empowers the drug dealers and cartels and makes our children LESS safe! We parents have been patient long enough, we must speak up and demand that marijuana be legally sold to adults in gas stations and supermarkets just as beer and wine are today!

We need Laws based on Logic! We need to Legalize Adult Marijuana sales!!

Anonymous

Posted Feb 15 2011

Alcohol prohibition in the US run from 1919 to 1933 - Now google 'The Great Wall Street Crash' and see when that happened!

During alcohol prohibition, all profits went to enrich thugs and criminals. Young men died every day on inner-city streets while battling over turf. A fortune was wasted on enforcement that could have gone on education etc. On top of the budget-busting prosecution and incarceration costs, billions in taxes were lost. Finally the economy collapsed. Sound familiar?

http://1929crash.com/

China has recently been in negotiation with a number of countries, asking them to replace the Dollar with the Chinese Yuan as their reserve currency. This, when it happens, will remove the Federal Government's ability to keep printing cash to cover the trillions it costs to fund prohibition. It’ll bring true freedom but the transition period will be more hectic than a slasher movie. It never had to be this way; we should have learned our lesson from studying the mayhem that alcohol prohibition wreaked on us.

We all have our victories and defeats as regards fear, but most of us strive not to let fear rule our hearts or our minds. Being free means being free to live and love as if death and fear had no power over us. Freedom also means that we have an ethical and moral responsibility to expose blind hate, lies and ignorance by shining eternal light, truth and love, sending such dark forces fleeing to the shadows from whence they came.

We explore outer space with various forms of space craft, but many choose to explore inner space via nature's abundant chemistry - an infinite journey into the heart of God. Whatever, we are here to explore this glorious universe. The Prohibitionist's brand of hateful, choking pseudo-Conservatism is the antithesis of all that. Like a lion who cannot grasp that he can do more than walk in a circle the size of the cage he's recently been freed from, the prohibitionist is incapable of exploration beyond the boundaries of his own fear, prejudice and loathing. We are all free to choose how we walk our own path, but when we choose to go beyond this by supporting drug-war demagoguery, to the point of even threatening others with imprisonment and physical violence, we loose the right to expect any form of respect from the once free and prosperous society that we are helping to totally destroy.

Thanks to prohibition we're about to lose all semblance of that once ordered, prosperous and safe society. Myself, along with many others, have been debating prohibitionists on this for many years. We have shown what destruction prohibition has wrought on all the civil institutions of this once great nation, -we've always provided facts and statistics - they, the prohibitionists, have countered with either lies, personal abuse or even serious threats of violence.

Ending the insanity of drug prohibition by legalized regulation, respecting the rights of the responsible users and focusing on addiction as a sickness, like we do with alcohol and tobacco, may save what remains of our economy and civil institutions along with countless lives and livelihoods. Prohibition continues unabated for shameful political reasons. It cannot, and never will, reduce drug use or addiction.

Prohibition has permanently scarred our national character as well as our individual psyches. Our national policies and cultural practices have become pervaded by the fascistic, prohibitionist mind-set which has turned our domestic police force into a bunch of paramilitary thugs who often commit extra-judicial beatings and executions while running roughshod over our rights in order to "protect us from ourselves".

When we eventually manage to put the horrors of this moronothon behind us, we'll need to engage in some very deep and honest soul-searching as to what we want to be as a nation. Many of our freedoms have been severely circumscribed or lost altogether, our economy has been trashed and our international reputation for being "free and fair" has been dragged through a putrid sewer by vicious narrow-minded drug warrior zealots who are ignorant of abstract concepts such as truth, justice and decency. We'll need to make sure that such a catastrophe is never ever repeated. This may mean that public hearings or tribunals will be held where those who’ve been the instigators and cheerleaders of this abomination will have to answer for their serious crimes against our once prosperous and proud nation.

Each day you remain silent, you help to destroy the Constitution, fill the prisons with our children, and empower terrorists and criminals worldwide while wasting hundreds of billions of your own tax dollars. Prohibition bears many strong and startling similarities to Torquemada­'s inquisition­, it's supporters are servants of tyranny and hate. If you're aware of but not enraged by it's shear waste and cruel atrocities then both your heart and soul must surely be dead.

Millions of fearless Egyptians have recently shown us that recognizing oppression also carries the weight of responsibility to act upon and oppose that oppression.

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