The University of Texas at Austin
  • Confessions of a violent border town

    By Matt Portillo
    Matt Portillo
    Published: April 22, 2010
    Students hold up signs in protest.Marsha Miller

    A capacity crowd filed past security and into the Santa Rita Room of the Texas Union last week to hear Jose Reyes Ferriz, mayor of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, speak about the history and realities of violence, crime and corruption in the border city. The two-hour-long event was hosted by the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LILLAS).

    Watch a video of Mayor Ferriz’s lecture.

    Mayor Ferriz spent the first hour talking about the history of Juarez and the events that led up to the waves of violence that have embroiled his city. He said the mass influx of workers during the 1970s, coupled with inadequate social infrastructure and public education, have led to neglected children and a generation that has become impoverished and disillusioned.

    “Mexico is a society that has a very tight family structure,” Ferriz said. “The fact that we didn’t have family structure made the social structure inadequate to take care of the kids…. Those kids [who grew up] in the 80s are now the kids doing crime in the street.”

    According to Ferriz, many “Juarenses” see engaging in crime or cooperating with criminals as the easiest option for making a living and surviving through the city’s turmoil.

    Ferriz’s address was followed by a question and answer session by a panel of three experts: Ricardo Ainslie, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology; John Burnett, NPR correspondent; and Cecilia Balli, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology.

    • Quote 2
      John Milferd said on Aug. 13, 2010 at 10:27 p.m.
      This is very difficult problem but if all the people will unite to choose person lead us And I think we can minimize this.And I hope that Government realize that many youth will be affected...Still believed that it will resolved.THANKS!
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      rslater said on May 7, 2010 at 9:42 a.m.
      "Clearly the cartels are not intimidated and clearly addiction has not stopped so...Mexico should reinstate the death penalty and it should be applied to drug smugglers and dealers. Maybe then will people think twice about buying drugs or becoming a provider." Violence begets violence.
    • Quote 2
      Tom Guinn said on April 30, 2010 at 12:40 p.m.
      If we legalize but restrict and control a substance, then there will be a black market to avoid the restrictions and controls, especially if there is a tax on the substance. Some things are too dangerous and destructive to be left freely floating around society--for example, heroin, meth, high explosives, and plutonium. The best solution, of course, is for us to stop buying the product sold by the cartels.
    • Quote 2
      Vidhu Shekhar Chaturvedi said on April 30, 2010 at 11:36 a.m.
      I come from Varanasi, India. Technically, Marijuana is illegal there but, in Varanasi, can be very easily purchased from a street side "vendor" hanging about various Bhang (Hemp) shops licensed by the government. ( "Government Bhang Shop" is what billboards spell out in Hindi.) Varanasi is a town which has traditionally been seat of learning, higher education and has emerged recently as the hub for intermediate education. Bhang and Marijuana are not viewed as causing ANY problem for students. Customers of these "drugs" are usually people from the lower economical classes (not necessarily lower SOCIAL classes) there but the administrations and the people are ever concerned with use of alcohol by youngsters, causing them to become 'unnaturally' aggressive and violent. Also, almost any 'drug' (medicine) could be purchased from chemists over the counter, which is also seen as a necessary convenience rather than a threat. I do not purport to support either alcohol or other intoxicating agents. However, it seems to me that people in the USA have better sense of how to consume alcohol while people in Varanasi seem to have a better sense of what to do with non-alcoholic intoxicating agents. In Varanasi, as in India, people simply need to develop a better sense of alcohol consumption. There is no problem with the AVAILABILITY of anything there.
    • Quote 2
      Legalizing will make it worse said on April 29, 2010 at 8:10 p.m.
      If the cartels are willing to fight to control the current illegal drug market, why would they not fight even more for what could be an even larger and profitable legalized market. There are many people today that don't use drugs today because of the fear of legal jeopardy. The potential gain in new customers that would no longer be deterred is significant. Also, the argument that legalization would reduce the price of drugs and therefore remove the willingness of cartels to resort to violence to control market share is based on a false assumption. That assumption is that prices would go down with the elimination of product costs incurred by the cartels that are attributable to judicial prosecution of their product. The cartels despite fighting among themselves do function as a monopoly. The cartels have no reason to ever lower the price. In a free market economy the only reason to lower prices would be to expand your customer base. People are willing to pay $xxx's today per unit of drugs so why would the cartels lower the prices if legalization occurred? I think the cartels have already shown that the human cost in their product is of no concern to them. I hate to disappoint those that are hoping that their drug costs would be reduced, but I believe that prices would actually go up with legalization. People seem to operate under the belief that drug cartels are made up by simple people with simple goals and aspirations. Today's cartels are as complex as any multi-national, multi-billion (trillion maybe?) corporation. They are headed by well educated and sophisticated business people employing market researchers, lobbyists, financial specialists, product development specialists, legal experts, etc. along with the thugs for the purpose of enriching the owners of the company. They are not interested in humanitarian or personal freedom issues! People point to Prohibition from 1920 to 1933 as a failed attempt to prevent people from obtaining a banned product. The stoppage of legal alcohol sales did significantly reduce alcohol consumption and reduce alcohol related costs to society. But, look at the undisputed costs to society that is attributable to alcohol abuse now - family violence, drunk driving, alcohol related diseases, etc. And we want to legalize substances that are even more addictive, more damaging to our bodies and more powerful modifiers of our behaviors than alcohol???
    • Quote 2
      Terri McCaslin said on April 29, 2010 at 10:53 a.m.
      Wow! What a wonderful and spirited Longhorn forum to discuss the morality and politics of narcotraficantes, and law on both sides of the border. And what an amazing and relevant invitation to the mayor of Juarez. Keep it up, Horns. This is how people learn.
    • Quote 2
      I live in El Paso too said on April 29, 2010 at 9:36 a.m.
      That is why all drugs need to be legalized. These problems are not because of drugs, they are because of prohibition. The problem is that people are going to do drugs regardless of whether they are illegal or not, so our policy should reflect the reality and give people prevention education and help if they need it. The reason that cartels are producing and selling drugs is because it is a lucrative market. Because they are illegal, the drug market is driven underground, creating a false inflation due to high demand and strict restrictions. If you look up how much money is being spent enforcing these laws that have not worked for more than 40 years, you would see just how much money is NOT going into things that support social infrastructure like schools, and for those addicted to drugs, rehabilitation, or prevention programs. Not to mention the prison industrial complex that has profited from non-violent drug offenders, and all of the lost taxes and money spent on people charged with simple marijuana possession. If you legalize, tax, and regulate all drugs at least there would be some control of the potency and who gets the drugs. Its easier to buy a sac of marijuana than it is to buy alcohol because you don't need an ID to buy it. Who controls the drug market right now? Cartels, and they dont care what its mixed with or who buys it. I am not for government control, but at least if drugs were legal they would be in a controlled setting and call me crazy, but things like heroin could be administered in a clean and controlled medical environment. Portugal decriminalized drugs and set up needle exchange programs, and within the past five years their rate of HIV infection went down 70%!!!!! Now the problem with Mexico is so much more than drugs. With free trade agreements and immigration policies we the US have sucked them, along with a lot of other Latin American countries, dry. They can't make money off of their resources anymore because they cannot compete with the market. Widespread social tensions like poverty and migration and lack of support for the overall population have left people seeking the easiest and lucrative way of making money, and that is selling drugs. The greater scheme of this whole issue is globalization and the system of government that we work in. That is why, although an advocate of legalization of all drugs, I fear it because corporations will tap into the new industry--we have already seen the mess that pharmaceutical drugs have created. As far as morals go, you nor the government has the right to say what someone should or shouldn't do with their body. Putting your restrictions on other people is immoral. Allowing people to make their own decisions so long as they aren't hurting anyone else, that is moral. Private prisons profiting from how many people they keep in jail for non violent drug offenses-who by the way are disproportionately people of color, thats immoral. Having a military industrial complex profiting from producing guns that inevitably end up in Mexico, thats immoral. Having a big pharmacy monopolize on what is considered to be legitimate treatment-while influencing the dismissal any therapeutic benefits of marijuana, thats immoral. Continuing to believe the government should protect the people from themselves, thats immoral.
    • Quote 2
      I live in "El Chuco" said on April 29, 2010 at 1:11 a.m.
      Legalize what? Do you seriously think that legalizing marijuana would do it? Do not forget, there is a heck of alot of cocaine and meth crossing too.
    • Quote 2
      El Cid said on April 27, 2010 at 1:56 p.m.
      "Just legalize it already." WRONG. The repercussions will be devastating: not only will we have a society that is already addicted tolerate it's own loss of moral fiber, we will have one that succumbs to the addiction of others. No, if we have tried everything then we must look out to extremes in order to send a message. Clearly the cartels are not intimidated and clearly addiction has not stopped so...Mexico should reinstate the death penalty and it should be applied to drug smugglers and dealers. Maybe then will people think twice about buying drugs or becoming a provider. We will not give up, at this point it is self-defense. "I would rather die standing than live on my knees!" -Zapata
    • Quote 2
      My horns are long said on April 24, 2010 at 10:10 a.m.
      Please...simple fix. Just legalize it already. Our government directly empowers those cartels with the DEA's prohibitions.
    • Quote 2
      Jake Trigg said on April 23, 2010 at 3:42 p.m.
      For excerpts of the mayor's comments on cleaning the corrupt police department and the army's involvement, check out this article:
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