Violence in Juarez continues as city celebrates anniversary of papal visit

Juarez-Mexico border (CBS4/KFOX14)

Violence is on the rise once again in Ciudad Juarez, a year after Pope Francis’ visit to the Borderland.

The director of the Center for Inter-American and Border Studies, Josiah Heyman, says 2016 was the most violent year for the city since 2012 in terms of homicides. More than 540 people were killed in 2016 in Juarez. The violence is still significantly lower than it was during the height of the drug war, but Heyman says it is concerning.

“Just because it went away from one place in 2012 doesn't mean it can't come back because the conditions are still there,” Heyman said.

There have been more than 40 murders in the city during February alone, according to the Chihuahua attorney general’s office.

One of those, who was killed execution-style, was a UTEP student. Adrian Moreno Quinonez and two others were killed in bar on Feb. 5 along with two Mexican university students.

Heyman believes there may be a number of reasons for the spike in violence, including a power struggle with the weakening of the Sinaloa after Chapo Guzman was arrested and extradited.

The more fundamental living conditions in the city may be playing a bigger role, however. Heyman pointed to three factors that are still affecting Juarez: the unrestrained weapons trade from the U.S., the high demand for illegal drugs such as opioids and the economic inequality in Mexico.

“The tremendous levels of inequality within Mexico itself that can drive the phenomenon sometimes known as ni, ni: ni escuela, ni trabajo' or no school, so work. Young men and sometimes young women who really don't have a future will join the organizations because they're working on a short timeline,” Heyman said.

Heyman says until those three conditions go away or lessen significantly, Mexico’s northern border will always have a potential for violence. But Heyman has seen some improvements in Juarez.

“The city has invested in recent years, both before and after the pope’s visit, in a lot of infrastructure and public facilities. But there are a lot of things that the pope drew attention to that have not really changed, which is a large number of bad jobs in factories,” he said.

In the end though, Heyman said, he doesn’t believe it was Pope Francis’ intention to heal the city overnight, but rather to inspire the people who live there to change for the better.

“The pope is not going to be the person that is going to magically change things. When things change, they change because we listen to his message and we change them. So the idea that somehow the pope was going to come here and things were going to be better, I think, mistakes the whole point of what he's trying to say to us. He was trying to say to us, 'Think about these things. You have the opportunity and the responsibility to make those changes,'” Heyman said.

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