Commentary: Juarez, subdued but active

A few days ago I had the opportunity to spend the day in Cd. Juárez conducting some business and people watching. Although I frequent Juárez, for security reasons, my time there is spent on necessary business meetings. Until a few days ago, I had not had the opportunity to really take the time to see how the city has changed do to the ongoing violence.

In 2009 I had the pleasure of escorting a reporter and her crew to interview and report on the violence. At that time I had written a paper on my observations of Juárez. Two years later I see some changes and some hope for the city.

My first impression is of a city in stress. The economic downturn is visible in the boarded up shops and light traffic on the streets. But it would be a mistake to think that the city streets are empty and the people have left. There is activity, people going about their daily routines. But the routines appear to have changed. People are more subdued but still friendly. Eyes dart around looking for things out of the ordinary but still a friendly “hello” is to be had everywhere.

One of my favorite restaurants is still there but the food is mediocre at best. I don’t think this has to do with the quality of the restaurant but rather with the lack of clientele which means the food stays longer in storage. At the same time, there are people eating there. There are young adults going to and from school and workers going to and from work. The supermarket is full of people buying their daily needs.

And security is everywhere. Unlike the news reports of ongoing street battles there were none. The military soldiers, who I approached, even when obviously on active patrol, were friendly and talkative. No menacing threats or guns pointed my way. The federal officers I approached via road blocks, there were many, were actually lying in their vehicles taking a nap or reading a publication, while one officer stood on guard. Their posture was one of presence but passive indifference to a dangerous situation.

In other words, although the security personnel appear to be targets, their demeanor was one of a city, calm after a major storm. Not one gun was pointed in my direction or an abusive attitude exhibited towards me. Every security personnel I encountered were courteous and professional.

It is obvious that the city is subdued but with plenty of life left in it. It is as if the city is now waiting for the worst to be over with so that it can come back to life. Cd. Juárez may not be as active as it once was but it is definitely not dead nor overtaken by the criminal organizations.