BY DAVID AGREN IN MEXICO CITY
MEXICAN PRESIDENT Felipe Calderón has claimed that the murder rate in the violent border city of Ciudad Juárez has dropped by 60 per cent over the past eight months. His comments generated nationwide headlines but drew mixed reviews from Catholic priests whose parishes are plagued by gang and drug cartel violence, extortion and kidnapping, businesses closing and residents abandoning their homes due to fears of insecurity.
Fr Oscar Enriquez, director of a Church-run human rights centre that has pursued complaints of wrongdoing directed at the military and federal police, said: “There was a decrease in April. But it’s too early to be proclaiming victory,” added Fr Enriquez, who has been critical of the federal government’s anti-crime strategies.
Fr Martin Magallanes, pastor of the St Toribio de Mogrovejo parish, said crime in the poor barrio he serves has failed to improve, despite an influx of federal police officers.
“The numbers they’re giving [the president] are laughable,” said Fr Magallanes, who is also the diocesan prison chaplain. “The federal police have acted like looters in uniforms. It’s a very common complaint people here have.” Law enforcement remains problematic in the outlying Juarez Valley, where many residents have fled. Houses have been burned or abandoned, and the entire local police force – led until recently by a 20year-old female college student – has either quit or been murdered, said the local priest, Fr Sergio Hernandez. “The army and the federal police are barely here,” said Fr Hernandez, pastor of the Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish in El Porvenir, which was attacked by arsonists in 2010.
Still, he acknowledged, that “the rate of violence has dropped a little”.
The trend of declining homicides in Ciudad Juárez – if maintained – could prove a significant accomplishment in the crackdown on organised crime undertaken by Mr Calderón immediately after he took office in December 2006.
The timing of the crime figures being released has raised some eyebrows, however. The figures come as critics of the drug war, led by Catholic poet Javier Sicilia, have undertaken protest marches and announced plans to sign a citizen declaration on June 10 in Ciudad Juarez calling for a less-militaristic approach to fighting crime.
Mr Calderón credited the federal police for driving down the homicide rate in Ciudad Juárez – considered a key corridor for smuggling drugs into the United States – along with a programme for addressing social needs such as health, education and employment known as “Todos Somos Juarez”.