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Mayor of Juárez on the Issues

In the three years since Jose Reyes Ferriz was elected mayor of Juarez, Mexico, his city of 1.5 million people has been in turmoil. It has been at the center of drug gang violence that has killed 5,000 people.  There have also been allegations of police corruption and illegal tactics by the army.

Cleaning up and rebuilding the Juarez police department has been one of the mayor's signature issues. He got rid of 700 agents, hired 1,500 new agents, and administered psychological exams to determine whether the new agents are clean.

On April 12, Ferriz appeared at The University of Texas at Austin to discuss his complete overhaul of the police force, the army's role in cleaning up the city, and how the situation is improving.

The panel discussion was sponsored by the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies and featured faculty members Cecilia Balli (Anthropology) and Ricardo Ainslie (Educational Psychology) as well as National PublicRadio correspondent John Burnett.

The following are excerpts from Mayor Ferriz's remarks:

Keeping the police force clean

We have 2,200 new recruits. Four out of five police were trained within the last two years. Other than violence, corruption is the main problem we have not just in Juarez but also the country.

This situation did not start overnight. The corruption took place over 15 years.

The police were the criminals. We needed the army to contain the problem until we solved the police problem. We needed the army to train and prepare a police department we can trust. We've been able to do that.

The army's alleged use of illegal tactics

I created a unit [to investigate complaints against the army].

We received about 900 complaints. In reviewing those complaints, something is very clear. About half have to do with the federal police, about half with the army. But it's very clear those complaints aren't about army officers (who are riding in patrol carts with police). We don't have any complaints against them.

The complaints are about the army doing work against organized crime. I've seen the complaints. They come mainly from parents of people arrested. They say during the arrest the army was abusive.

A guy was arrested three weeks ago. He killed five people including two U.S. Army officers. They were killed in a strip club. The Mexican government has clear evidence against (him). There's a video of him killing five people. Five other people then stood up and left with him. They were all arrested. 

There's no need to torture someone when there's clear evidence.

He's put in jail and there's a complaint from his family that the army was abusive in detainment. These are hard-core criminals. They kill for a living. You can't come in with an arrest warrant and say, "Please come follow me."

And those are the complaints. Are there abuses? I don't know. The city does not investigate that. The city is not an investigating agency. You can't act against hardened criminals politely.

The U.S.'s role in the drug war

I can't believe that if you throw a piece of paper out of the car window in California, you get an $800 fine.  If you're caught with marijuana, you get a $50 fine.

Having inconsistent policies makes this a tremendous problem. If Mexico is forced to have a policy of fighting the flow of drugs into the U.S., the U.S. should have a policy of opposing the use of drugs.

... Our problem stems from $35 billion in consumption of drugs in the U.S. Sending $400 million to Mexico to try to stop that is not enough. The U.S. Congress has to get involved.

Defining success in the drug war

I think the definition for Mexico is, unfortunately, the fact that drugs go through someplace else (another country). We're not stopping the flow of drugs, we just don't want it going through our back yard. That's not a good definition but it's all we can have as long as the U.S. in the world's largest consumer of drugs.

Social inequities contribute to the problem

The real problem is a social problem. On the west side of Juarez, for a population of 400,000 there is only one high school.

,,, Young kids made $40 per week killing.

Gang violence in the drug trade

The Aztecas Asistas ... began a war for the lucrative retail sales market in Juarez. All the killings last year, over 2,600 of them, are mainly linked to those gangs, not necessarily to the criminal organizations.

...The gangs created a structure similar to the police sectors.

Gang members are in charge of every sector. If they wanted someone killed, they called the guy in charge of the sector.  So the guy would stand outside his home, watch the patrol car go that way, walk out a couple blocks on the other side, kill the person they wanted to kill, get back to his home. The patrol car didn't have enough time to come back and catch him. That's still happening.

What are we doing to change that?

We now have 800 patrol cars in the city, with 5,000 additional police officers from the federal government.

by Jake Trigg