AL DÍA: Traveling the Texas-Mexico Border

Erik Lee, North American Center for Transborder Studies, Arizona State University, 2/24/2012

Eric Olson and Chris Wilson of the Mexico Institute are currently driving the entirety of the Texas-Mexico border, beginning in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez, ending in Brownsville/Matamoros, and blogging along the way. Erik Lee is with us for the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez portion of the trip and offered to be our guest blogger for day three on the border:

We headed into Ciudad Juarez yesterday morning in the context of a new equilibrium that no one can seem to explain but which everyone recognizes–violence in Juarez and calm in El Paso. 

 And yet what appears to be an accidental shooting has broken this equilibrium somewhat, at least politically
“On Tuesday about 11 a.m., Maria Romero, 48, who was shopping in the 200 block of East Overland Avenue, was shot in the leg by a stray bullet. Romero was treated for a minor wound at Universal Medical Center and released the same day. The incident could be the first time a person in El Paso has been wounded by a bullet fired in Juárez since drug-related violence began in 2008.” -El Paso Times
While El Paso officials said publicly that they suspect that the stray bullet came from a gunbattle between municipal police officers in Ciudad Juarez who were prosecuting a carjacking near the international border, Ciudad Juarez Mayor Héctor “Teto” Murguía quickly disagreed, saying that El Paso officials should have considered other alternatives, such as a gun that may have been lost in ATF’s ill-fated Fast and Furious program. The press in both cities has seized on the event, which comes a couple of weeks after President Calderon’s recent high-profile visit to Ciudad Juárez and his very public denunciation of arms trafficking to Mexico from the U.S.
 
In the context of this and other recent local events, we met with a number of U.S. and Mexican officials who did not pull any punches when describing the shortcomings of the other side or their political enemies. Some of the input we received: There is no coordination between the various levels of government on the Mexican side; the interagency process on the U.S. side is lacking; the coordination on the Mexican side is better now; President Calderon should have been reinforcing AFI (Agencia Federal de Investigacion, somewhat akin to the FBI); Mexican police forces have weak case building capabilities; political will is lacking on the U.S. side; there are simply too many moving parts in Juárez to get a handle on where we are and where we are going.
 
What is not clear is whether the U.S. can have a decisive impact in what is essentially a local struggle. Funding for law enforcement in Mexico generally trickles down to municipalities from the federal government. Mérida Initiative funds benefit federal and sometimes state law enforcement and rule of law initiatives in Mexico, while local police receive very little of these funds. But it is abundantly clear is that the local police—generally the most vulnerable component of Mexican law enforcement–are key in the fight against the criminal groups operating in Ciudad Juárez.
 
While it will take us a while to process the enormous amount of input we received from people in El Paso and Ciudad Juárez—there are aspects of this dynamic that simply do not add up–it is clear that there is deep local knowledge on these issues, particularly among the local political class but also among federal officials who are fortunate enough to be able to stay in one place for a while. We met with a large number of people who are deeply invested in the well-being of both cities, and this is a good thing, because the Paso del Norte region is one with great historical and strategic significance for both the United States and Mexico.
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