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NewsNotes, May-June 2010
Vol. 35 No. 3

Mexico-U.S. border: Shattered dreams, restoring hope

On the Maryknoll Sisters website, read this blog entry, "Mexican drug violence affects real people" written by Maryknoll Srs. Josephine Lucker and Lori Beinkafner, who moved to the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez area in 2004.


The following article is based on Shattered dreams and restoring hope: Organized crime and violence on the U.S.-Mexico border, written by Eric Olson, senior advisor for the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute. In February, Olson participated in a delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border to examine the effectiveness of efforts to confront transnational organized crime, with the assumption that both countries share the responsibility to address the violence and its underlying causes.

Olson and his colleagues visited the home where 13 teenagers and two adults were killed on January 31 during a birthday party in Ciudad Juarez. He writes, “Outside the house was a hand-scribbled sign that simply said, ‘What do you want us to do? Arm our children? Justice.’ In its simplicity, the sign captured the sense of anger and desperation we heard expressed throughout our nine-day trip to the U.S.-Mexican border. …”

Olson’s report provides many detailed observations that might lead to a more informed discussion about the border region, including: Consumption is the driving force behind trafficking in illegal drugs. However, despite the importance of drug trafficking, what is going on at the border and throughout the hemisphere extends well beyond drug trafficking, i.e., it now includes extortion, kidnapping, and trafficking in pirated goods and humans. This phenomenon is circular, not one-way. Weapons and money flow southward with little strategy to stem the tide. Most violence appears to be conflicts within and among organized crime groups and youth gangs (with some exceptions, such as the January 31 massacre at the birthday party.)

One of the final observations is that the crushing economic and social realities in Mexico and especially along the border are a contributing factor to the violence. “Widely reported statistics include an estimate that 116,000 dwellings in Ciudad Juarez have been abandoned and approximately 25 percent have fled the city due to the violence and economic recession,” Olson writes. “An estimated 80,000 [of] Juarez’s youth are characterized as ‘ní- ní’ as in they neither work nor go to school (in Spanish: ní estudian, ní trabajan).”

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón “seemed to acknowledge the need for economic development and social investment when he visited Ciudad Juarez on February 11 and said ‘The presence of troops and police is not enough,’” Olson writes. “… In the midst of the multiple and interconnected problems facing the United States and Mexico, it is sometimes overwhelming to figure out what can be done. Organized crime naturally operates in an opaque environment where precise information is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. Little wonder, then, that a clear strategy for addressing this problem is equally difficult to define. Nevertheless it’s important that leaders in both countries continue to work together to develop a strategy that is both long term and multi-dimensional, shunning the temptation to find easy answers or ‘magic bullets’ that will ‘solve’ the problem in short order.”

Olson’s report then lists the following suggestions that the governments might consider as they work for more effective policies:

  • Focus more resources on reducing demand for illegal drugs in the U.S. with a particular focus on prevention and treatment programs. Reducing demand will reduce the economic incentives for trafficking and cut into the profits that are feeding the trade.
  • Prioritize upstream intelligence based efforts to stop the flow of money and weapons back to Mexico. Southbound border inspections do not appear to have resulted in an effective strategy to disrupt the flow of cash and weapons southward, and the serious back ups in vehicular movement are causing major hardships for legitimate commerce and border communities.
  • Provide idle youth with alternatives other than joining a gang, absorption by organized crime, or fleeing to the U.S. Investment in better educational opportunities and vocational training tied to real job opportunities are a starting point. But federal, state, and local governments should consider investing more in urban planning as well to create recreational and cultural opportunities for young people that give them healthy alternatives to crime.
  • Professionalizing law enforcement agencies and the justice system are indispensable, especially when it comes to increasing the investigative capacity of authorities. Investing in training for prosecutors, judges, and public defenders is also essential if the new oral/adversarial justice system is going to win public support. Equally important is governmental investment in mechanisms that promote transparency and accountability within governmental agencies, including but not limited to federal, state, and local police forces.
  • Take steps to re-establish public trust in authorities by de-politicizing anti-crime strategies. Non-partisan task-forces that include civil society leaders, academic experts, and law enforcement professionals could be a starting point. Breaking down the barriers of distrust is key to a successful anti-crime strategy. Creating partnerships between civic organizations and government will be critical to reestablishing trust and make communities a secure place to live.
  • Develop a culture of inter-agency collaboration and coordination within the three levels of Mexico’s government, and between the U.S. and Mexico.
  • Encourage, strengthen, and protect an independent press and the role of civil society in Mexico, especially in the border cities.

Read Olson's entire report here.

On the Maryknoll Sisters website, read this blog entry, "Mexican drug violence affects real people" written by Maryknoll Srs. Josephine Lucker and Lori Beinkafner, who moved to the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez area in 2004.

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