< Rehabilitating Juarez's International Image


Friday, June 22, 2012

BROOKE GLADSTONE:  The rest of this program is devoted to perception, by which I mean perceptions of Mexico by Americans. Yes, this is a very self-centered segment. And let’s face it,  Mexican tourism and American tourists are both handicapped by perceptions. So let’s start with the last place you’d probably ever want to visit, where Marianne is.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  Ciudad Juarez. It’s where burritos were invented - at least, that’s what they say - and Margaritas too, right here in this downtown bar.

MAYOR HECTOR MURGUIA:  Please come. Take a burrito. See the restaurants, see the streets.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  This is the image Mayor Hector Murguia wants to project of Ciudad Juarez.

MAYOR HECTOR MURGUIA:  Yesterday, we did have 200,000 people in just one park, the streets completely full of cars, the restaurants completely full.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  The corrupt police force? Murguia says he’s replaced one-third of the officers. A former police director convicted of drug smuggling in the U.S., that’s history. He says murders are way down here because of the tactics of his new police chief and his new social programs. And here’s how he responds to the U.S. Justice Department suggesting the violence is down because the Sinaloa drug cartel won the war.

MAYOR HECTOR MURGUIA:  I really, really doubt it. I really doubt it. But I’m not expert. I am just a presidente municipal but –

MARIANNE McCUNE:  Well, on that topic, one of the images that people have is not only that there is this problem of cartels and the violence that they cause, but there is a problem of public officials being linked with cartels.


MARIANNE McCUNE:  How can you prove –

MAYOR HECTOR MURGUIA:  Not linked. I know I don’t have to prove nothing. If, if, if – if there is a, a public individual who is linked with drugs, sooner or later he’s gonna be dead. And the proof is as — we’re still alive. [LAUGHS]


MARIANNE McCUNE:  Across the border is El Paso, Texas, billing itself as the safest big city in the United States. The mayor here is known for his plain talk, and his guitars.

MAYOR JOHN COOK:  [SINGING] Well, El Paso’s your land, El Paso’s my land, from the –


MARIANNE McCUNE:  These two cities’ economies are inextricably linked. Mayor John Cook says El Paso benefits hugely from the maquiladoras, the factories across the border.

MAYOR JOHN COOK:  A lot of their top management lives in El Paso, so they buy their houses here, they buy their cars there, they send their kids to school here.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  And they pay taxes here.

MAYOR JOHN COOK:  And they pay taxes here, right - well, hopefully.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  The two mayors make presentations together to convince businesses this is a good place. Cook says he’ll offer tips on how to hold onto your ride.

MAYOR JOHN COOK:  And if you drive a beat up old clunker, it’s not necessarily the vehicle that they want.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  Or a lesson from his military spy training.

MAYOR JOHN COOK:  You don’t always take the same route to work or to home.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  Very reassuring. The thing is, when the violence got bad in Juarez, Mayor Cook says he couldn’t, in good conscience, encourage everyday people to go.

MAYOR JOHN COOK:  Not only did, did we stop encouraging them to go, we started encouraging them not to go. You know, that’s like telling people it’s safe to drive without your seat belt or ride your motorcycle without a helmet.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  When the violence was reaching its peak, El Paso’s Tourism Convention Bureau decided to redo its colorfully illustrated tourist map of El Paso and Juarez together.

JOSÉ ALEJANDRO LOZANO:  They said we’ll sponsor one but we’ll delete Juarez. We don’t want to send tourists to Juarez.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  José Alejandro Lozano has been designing these maps out of his home since 1978, highlighting landmarks on both sides of the border for various clients. For the 2010 map he says he reluctantly agreed to remove Juarez.

JOSÉ ALEJANDRO LOZANO:  For four days straight they put headline news - See how Juarez has Disappeared from the Map.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  On the new map he colorfully illustrated the streets of El Paso, and below the border just dry brown desert where Juarez was supposed to be.

JOSÉ ALEJANDRO LOZANO:  We have the same blood, we have the same relatives. And, and it’s like one of your kids or, or one of your members in your body has a problem. You can’t just cut it off. You have to – you want to fix it, you want to take care of it.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  During the last six years, Demetrios Sotomayor says tourism in Juarez dropped by about 60%. Now it’s coming up again but, as director of tourism for the state, he has a lot to surmount. So when Lozano called him up this year to suggest they make yet another El Paso tourist map, this time including Juarez, Sotomayor said, “Let’s do it.”

DEMETRIOS SOTOMAYOR:  We feel that they’re endorsing to come to Juarez, and we’re very happy for that. We’re thankful and happy that they allowed us to be back in the map.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  But Sotomayor may be excessively grateful. El Paso’s Tourism Convention Bureau wasn’t interested.

DEMETRIOS SOTOMAYOR:  They said no, we don’t want to sponsor it.

MARIANNE McCUNE:  Instead, it’s the State of Chihuahua that’s giving seed money. So this time around it’s Juarez promoting its link to El Paso.


The effort to push a new image of Juarez extends well beyond public officials. There’s a growing movement of colectivos,  groups of young people putting their own mark on the city.


Like the mural these kids are painting on the wall of a well-trafficked underpass.


Daisy says some people think people from Juarez are bad. This is her way of saying, “No.” Somewhere on the Internet you can find a photo of this bridge with a body hanging off it and a note scrawled by some member of a drug gang. Now, young faces in gray and white paint are populating its walls.


At a working class home on a Friday night Susana Molina, aka “The Black Sheep,” appears on a friend’s Internet radio show, “Voices of the Underground.” She is also part of the collective movement, but rap is her mode of expression.


She says for her it’s important just to register her voice here, as a strong young woman, with a lot to say in a city better known for girls who disappear.


Hosted by:

Marianne McCune