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Is it Safe to Return to Juárez?

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Friday, November 9, 2012 - 12:00am

A trip to Juárez feels a little like a visit to an exotic city half way around the world. Street vendors are busy peddling their goods, while shoppers are serenaded by the sound of music.
However, Juárez isn't the bustling city it once was. In recent years it's been dubbed the murder capital of the world. Since 2007, more than 10,000 people have been murdered in El Paso's city sister city. Many have been caught in the crossfire of a drug war between the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels.

Jose Yanar experienced the violence first hand. The El Paso man used to live in Juárez. He was headed home from work one day when he says he kidnapped, tied up, and held hostage by several men. "If they want to take you, they're going to do it," he said. "You have no time to be scared. You are thinking very fast what to do, what's going to be your next step, and you try to do it, try to make it happen."

The next day he and his family packed up the car and moved to the U.S. Yanar now runs his Juárez furniture manufacturing business from El Paso. He also owns 24 cameras that allow him to keep an eye on production every minute of the day. "Will you ever move back?" asks reporter Keagan Harsha. "No, not to live. I hope one day i can go to my office again and run the business myself from there, but not to live," Yanar said.

Yanar"s story is similar to that of many others. David Saucedo is the president of La Red, a group of more than three dozen El Paso business owners. Most moved to the U.S. from Juárez. "It's a sad situation, but that's how it is," said Saucedo. The group meets weekly and functions somewhat like a support group. At the height of the violence, there were a half dozen new members joining La Red every month.

"It was a very difficult transition and is a very difficult transition. Laws in Mexico are very different than laws in the U.S.," said Saucedo.

Little by little there are signs of change in Juárez. A few years ago downtown streets were nearly empty, especially at night, but that's no longer the case. So what has changed? According to police statistics, violent crime is finally on the decline in Juárez, down more than 40% through the first nine months of the year. In October there were 30 homicides, the lowest number in five years. There's a lot of speculation as to why Juárez is safer today. Some credit a new president and a new police chief. However, most say crime is on the decline, because the Sinaloa cartel has won the drug war and now controls the local narcotics trade.

"That's a bunch of baloney. Some people think they are experts on cartels," said Hector Murguia, the Mayor of Juárez.

Murguia credits increased patrols, a stronger military presence, and more job opportunities as the reasons for change. He says more than 26,000 new jobs have been created so far this year. Big chunks of downtown are also getting a makeover. Dozens of bars and strip clubs have been torn down, paving the way for a giant plaza full of restaurants, shops, apartments, and parks.

"Our heart of the city, our lungs of the city is the downtown area," said Murguia. Regardless of what's behind the sharp decline in crime, Juárez residents say they're simply happy to see it. It's a city slowly bouncing back to its former glory, with hopes of an even better tomorrow.

"We are praying to God that this can get better and better and better because God answers all our prayers. I believe that. I feel that," said Clara Jalban, a business owner in Juárez.

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