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Juarez Citizens Fed Up With Calderon

New America Media, News analysis, Jose Luis Sierra Posted: Feb 17, 2010

Mexican President Felipe Calderon held one of the most contentious citizens meeting of his administration last week in defense of his strategy against his war on drugs. The results remain to be seen, but most of the people present concluded that his war on drugs has resulted in more of the same; that it is a failure.

Last week, prompted by the recent massacre of 15 young people, Mexican President Felipe Calderon visited one of the most violent cities in the world. After chiding him for arriving an hour late, residents of Ciudad Juarez were quick to remind him that he, in fact, was two years and about 4,500 deaths too late.

As he spoke to a crowd of about 600 in a local convention center, seven of the mothers of the victims stood up and turned their backs to the president. Afterwards, while the Chihuahuas governor gave his own speech, one woman stood up, walked towards the presidents podium and openly chastised him for incriminating the dead youngsters with the narco-wars. Two of those killed were her sons.

Her name was Luz Maria Davila, a resident of Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood where her sons were murdered. I want you to apologize for saying that [my kids] were gang members! Its a lie, one was going to the UACH [Autonomous University of Chihuahua], and the other was going to high school Davila said while facing the president, as the astonished members of his security detail scrambled to make the woman return to her seat. News accounts of the encounter revealed that Davila railed against the president for over five minutes in front of the media.

Its unprecedented in the countrys history for a citizen to address a president in those terms, let alone a Mexican woman. According to media reports, a startled Calderon muffled a weak of course, in a failed attempt to calm her down. The presidents reaction reignited the womans frustration.

Dont just respond [of course] to me, do something! If someone had killed your son, you would have looked under the stones for the assassin, but since I dont have the resources, I cannot look for them, Davila said.

Davila went back to her seat sobbing after telling Calderon that all politicians are alike, they always promise but never deliver. According to several news accounts, the moment was so tense that even Calderons wife, seated at his side, went to the womans seat and tried to comfort her.

Speaking to reporters at the event, Hernan Ortiz, the head of Citizens for a Better Administration, called the meeting chaotic. If he [Calderon] couldnt control this meeting, could you believe he can control the rest? Ortiz added, referring to the war against the narcos.

It is clear that his strategy is not winning this war. However, he insists on more of the same, said Carlos Gutierrez Casas, a member of the local Human Rights Commission. People dont trust him anymore.

The economic stagnation brought by the narco-violence, has been exacerbated by the global recession, leaving more than one third of the approximate 1.5 million residents of Ciudad Juarez living well below the official poverty level. Unemployment is rampant with official figures set at record double-digit figures of 15 percent, but many local economists believe it to be almost double that figure. The city, once a mecca of maquila products is dying.

According to figures provided this week by the local merchants organization (CANACO), more than 10,600 businesses in the city have closed (about 30 percent), many of them burned down after owners refused to pay extortion money.

Restaurants, bars and nightclubs popular with local clientele and tourists from El Paso have been the hardest hit. As soon as the sun goes down so does the traffic, leaving the police and military convoys roaming empty streets.

Local authorities estimated recently that more than 100,000 families have fled, many of them, like Juarezs mayor, to neighboring El Paso.

Calderon acknowledged the economic crisis by pumping more state funds to the region.

After meeting with state and local officials at the airport, the president announced $230 million in funds for education, public health, urban development, business assistance, and law enforcement programs. Military presence already in place will remain.

If anything good came out of this meeting it was the fact that for the first time President Calderon faced the citizens affected by his policies, said State Senator Victor Quintana. It is clear that no war against the narcos will be won without citizens participation, but the citizens will not do so unless their needs are met.

He just doesnt get it, said Cipriana Jurado, a local leader of the Center of Solidarity and Research for Working Women, an NGO that deals with issues affecting the thousands of women who work in the maquila industry. He insists in fighting the narcos with guns, and ignores the social and economic circumstances that breed this problem.

Related Articles:

War on Drugs or War on Mexicans?

Victims of Mexico's Drug War Getting Younger

Journalism in Mexico Is a Dangerous Business

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