Business leaders seek end to drug violence in Mexican border city

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With Christmas sales around the corner, merchants want to be able reassure shoppers that Juarez is again safe

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — With Christmas sales around the corner and a fragile tourism industry on the line, Juarez business leaders want to make sure the violent drug cartel attacks of the past few days that have left more than a dozen people dead and 24 vehicles on fire has been contained.

On Monday, members of the city’s Business Advisory Board (Centro Coordinador Empresarial) met behind closed doors with the top law enforcement officials in Juarez and the state of Chihuahua, who assured them the “uprising” by one of the city’s most ruthless gangs has been contained, according to people who participated in the meeting.

The mayhem began last Tuesday night and extended into Wednesday morning, with random attacks in the southern part of the city that left eight people dead and 15 vehicles on fire, including 10 city buses. The killings and vehicle burnings continued into Thursday, and Friday and Saturday police responded to 25 bomb threat in businesses, shopping centers and schools.

The Chihuahua state Attorney General attributed the attacks to the leaders of the “Mexicles” gang, which is running its criminal enterprise from Cereso state prison and apparently ordered their members to carry out random acts of terror to persuade the police not to raid the prison on Tuesday night. More than 800 soldiers took over the prison, although on Monday some press reports stated many of the soldiers had left.

Business leaders were reassured by police that other measures were set in place and are working, according to meeting participants.

“Things are returning to normal,” said Eduardo Ramos Moral, president of the Juarez Business Confederation (Coparmex). “This started with the authorities trying to ensure public safety, trying to regain control of the state prison. … If we felt the collateral damage was unsustainable, we’d be the first ones to speak up.”

The Juarez business community is preparing its biggest sale of the year, known as “El Buen Fin” (the Good Weekend) to counter Black Friday in neighboring El Paso, Texas. In addition, thousands of Mexican citizens who work in the United States are expected to pass through the city during the next two months to spend the holidays with their families in Mexico.

If many Juarez residents chose to stay home or opt to shop in El Paso because of the perceived danger in their city, local businesses would suffer losses. On Monday, business leaders said the bulk of the population has been spared the violence.

“We are confident our sales will not be affected. People can shop in a safe environment,” said Chamber of Commerce President Rogelio Gonzalez.

“There is no danger to the population, the proof is that the U.S. (State Department) issued a travel warning to the state capital, not to Juarez,” added Ramos of the Business Confederation.

Deputy Attorney General Jorge Nava said his office told the business leaders on Monday that the violence primarily affected only certain neighborhoods, and that patrols had been increased in those places.

“We explained to them what happened and made a commitment to be in constant communication. We will effect several new actions that include prevention programs in schools and resources to combat drug addictions. We’re also working on adding surveillance cameras,” Nava said.

On Monday, some Mexican news reports suggested the violence was dying down because the soldiers were leaving the prison. Later in the day, the Attorney General’s Office stated that the soldiers would remain at the prison permanently, but “not in as great a number.”

And the killings continued, as a woman was shot to death and a driver was injured when gunmen opened fire on a public transportation vehicle.

Freelance photojournalist Roberto Delgado contributed to this report.

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