Posted on Wed 18 August 2010

Myths about Ciudad Juarez

Last year there were over 2,600 murders in Ciudad Juarez, and if the more than 1,800 murders so far this year are any indications, there will be even more murders in 2010. Ciudad Juarez is a scary place, but it wasn’t always that way…

I learned from Noel Maurer’s Blog that Ciudad Juarez used to have a low murder rate before 1993, but it rose steeply after the local leader of the Juarez Cartel, Aguilar Guajardo, died, and Amado Carillo replaced him. After Amado Carrillo had firmly established himself thing calmed down somewhat, but by then the violence had switched to a new equilibrium. But anyways, go read Noel Maurer’s take on it
    Somehow this caused Ciudad Juarez to become the poster city for lawlessness, famous for its hundreds of unsolved murders against women. This, despite the fact that were other urban areas that had higher homicides rates against women or that its overall murder rate was no different from the other big border cities. In short, the conventional wisdom was wrong and this blog post will hopefully convince you that:

    • The homicide rate in Ciudad Juarez was not different from other border cities.
    • The homicide rate for women, while certainly higher than average for Mexico, was lower than in other large urban areas and not significantly different from other border cities.
    • Ciudad Juarez is not poor or particularly unequal as measured by its gini coefficients relative to other Mexican municipalities.

    The part about the femicides

    The chart below shows that when the homicide rate started to increase in the early 90s, the proportion of homicides that were female also increased, which means that the female homicide rate increased even faster.
    But how does Ciudad Juarez’s femicide rate compare to other parts of Mexico?
    Miguel Hidalgo is a relatively nice borough in Mexico City, in spite of its high homicide rate its inhabitants are more likely to be found protesting the killing of trees in front of the Lycée Franco-Mexicain than protesting femicides, and they count as their neighbor the richest man in the world. Toluca is the capital of the State of Mexico near Mexico City. The fact that there were areas more dangerous to women than Ciudad Juarez was well known to Mexican criminologists.

    What about the other big border cities?
    Ciudad Juarez wasn’t significantly more violent to women than any other border city.

    Why did Ciudad Juarez acquire such a bad reputation:

    1. The big increase in murders when the Juarez Cartel switched owners. And since the homicide rate for women increased even faster than for men, people started freaking out, even if it was well below other cities in Mexico.
    2. virtually all the victims were poor, young, slender women with cinnamon skin and long dark hair Missing pretty girl syndrome. Young attractive women are given a disproportionate attention when they go missing. In thruth the age of the victims was no different in Toluca than in Ciudad Juarez, but various organizations played up the pretty young girl part. Most recently the MAC makeup line had to apologize for its cosmetics line quinceanera inspired by Ciudad Juarez.
    3. The anti-globalization movement latched onto the killings to show the evils of free trade since they increased around the time NAFTA came into effect.

    The part about the homicides

    Now lets look at the homicide rate for both men and women:
    Again, Ciudad Juarez is not different from other border cities. The big increase in Nuevo Laredo in 2005-2006 was due to the Gulf Cartel trying to take over the drug trafficking route or “plaza” of Nuevo Laredo.

    In the next chart I chose to include the montainous and very rural municipality of Badiraguato since a lot of cartel leaders have come from this municipality in Sinaloa. There’s some doubt as to whether the current leader of Juarez cartel, Vicente Carrillo, was born in Mexico City or Sinaloa but his uncle and former leader of the Guadalajara Cartel, Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, was born in Badiraguato. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, was also born in Badiraguato
    Again, the fact that Ciudad Juarez wasn’t the most violent city in Mexico was well known to Mexican criminologists.

    The part about the social indicators
    Ciudad Juarez is actually one of the riches municipalities in Mexico, and since GDP per capita tends to be highly correlated with all sorts of social well-being indicators, Juarez tends to rank higher than average for Mexico in all development indicators. Its population tends to be well educated (over 97% can read and write), and the state where it is located scores high on the Pisa exam.
    Ciudad Juarez is unequal, but it is far from the most unequal municipality in Mexico. However there were two indicators where Ciudad Juarez stood out:
    1. There were a lot of births to single mothers (single as in not partnered, as opposed to those unmarried mothers living in a domestic arrangement). Divorce also tends to be more common in the northern states, but it is still low by international standards.
      All top 5 are cities in the state of Chihuahua.
    2. Chihuahua along with Coahuila had the highest unemployment rate in 2009 (Ciudad Juarez is not part of the urban areas covered in the unemployment survey). But I’m sure part of the reason was the incredible rise in violence that started in 2008. Before the drug war, the whole border region had experienced the highest economic growth rates in all of Mexico.

    Hopefully I convinced you that the current violence levels in Ciudad Juarez weren’t due to a long process of social decomposition contrary to how the Mexican government is trying to portray it:
    The deterioration of values and evidently the expression of violent criminality in Mexico, was not a phenomenon that appeared suddenly, or that occurred fortuitously in our country; it was the fruit of a very long process, that today is showing, precisely, this grave result for the country, but it wasn’t something that happened suddenly.
    There’s no question that the equilibrium of violence can shift over long periods but what happened in 2008 was a sudden shock, not the fruit of a long process. Reasons to believe otherwise have no basis in objective reality.
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