Juarez sees drop in homicides in 2021, but drug and impunity issues persist

Border Report

Victims of cartel turf wars, random crime and domestic violence included 172 women and 43 minors; citizens' groups demand police accountability

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Juarez closed 2021 with 1,420 homicides – a 14 percent decrease over an even more violent 2020.

Nine out of 10 killings were drug-related and more than a third of the victims were men and women between the ages of 18 and 29; most were killed execution-style, often with a bullet to the head or on the losing end of a barrage of bullets, according to an analysis released Monday by the Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office.

“I think we closed the year on a good note. There was a considerable decrease in comparison to 2020,” Deputy Attorney General Manuel Carrasco said. “We will continue to apply the strategies that worked regarding the investigation and prosecution of crimes.”

The decrease brings hope to residents of that Mexican border city besieged by cartel activity. But the fact that more than 3,000 people’s lives have been cut short in the past two years worries some working professionals and is prompting them to act against the violence.

“We had over 100 killings every month save for last January. We need to be very clear that these homicides are more than what we deserve as a city,” said Guillermo Asiain, coordinator of Juarez’s Security and Justice Council.

Violent homicide analysis for Juarez, Mexico 2021 (State of Chihuahua)

The council, also known as Mesa de Seguridad, came together after the drug cartel wars of the late-2000s and early 2010s. It includes members of business groups, academia and concerned citizens. Its goal is to work with police agencies on strategies to reduce crime.

The constant violence – the city averaged four homicides a day last year – tarnishes Juarez’s image and possibly spooks some investors. The city has been near the top of the list of Most Dangerous Cities in the world in the last few years based on its homicide rate of 104 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2019 and 109 in 2020. The violence also takes a dire human toll, Asiain said.

“We are living in a city where for the last two years 3,000 families have lost a family member to violence,” he said. “In 2010-2011 the numbers were even higher. We have children who were 5-, 6 years old that grew up with health and (emotional) issues that are difficult to measure and that also contribute to a more violent community. That is why it’s very important to reduce the numbers.”

The council meets regularly with police officials to get to the root causes of the violence. As was the case 10 years ago, the main culprits are drugs and impunity – being able to commit crimes knowing you will get away with it.

Back then, it was the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels trying to eradicate each other for control of smuggling routes into the United States and other illicit activities such as kidnapping and extortion. Today, there’s still some of that, but the bulk of the killings result from turf wars between gangs trying to sell drugs to Juarez consumers at the retail level.

The victims in 2021 included 172 women and 43 minors. The Attorney General’s Office said 142 women were killed in connection to drug activity, 12 were victims of random crime and 18 deaths were classified as femicides — they were victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse.

Asiain said there’s no easy way to end the violence but improving police efficiency is a start. He sees a correlation between the number of homicides going down as the number of arrests goes up. In 2014, for instance, police arrested suspects in 25 percent of homicides, and murders dropped 40 percent.

“The common denominator when we have greater peace in the city is how efficient the police and the judiciary are able to catch and prosecute those responsible for crimes,” Asiain said.

Also, ordinary people need to get involved.

“The community needs to take public safety personally. That means if something happened to my neighbor and I’m able to report it, that’s going to help my community,” he said. “When I visited Medellin, Colombia, which also experienced drug violence in the past, people told me, ‘You’re not going to be able to achieve peace until you start taking this personally.'”

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