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25 February 2010

Not everything about Juarez, good bad or indifferent, necessarily is “drug related”.  Cuidad Juarez — while as much a part of the “real Mexico” as any other city in the country — is different in several ways.  As I’ve talked about before (back in 2006, before the latest “Drug War” was more than a blip on the usual “Mexico is dangerous” radar screen)  it’s a frontier town and a boom town, with a different demographic than you’d find elsewhere.  I’m not sure the census numbers are accurate (or can be accurate) for a community where so many residents are only there as long as there are jobs, or who intend to move on eventually (or were deportees and are stuck there for financial or other reasons).

Julia Cardona, in an 18 February 2010 Reuters dispatch on the population decline in Juarez begins “Tens of thousands of Mexicans are fleeing drug violence on the U.S. border in an exodus that is decimating a large city and threatening to leave a major manufacturing area short of skilled workers.”

Cardona says 200,000 people have left Juarez, Ganchoblog says up to 500,000.  But, given that manufacturing is down (fear of narco-violence having less to do with it than a downturn in U.S. consumer demand and the local economy’s nearly complete dependence on the U.S. economy) coupled with a decline in emigration to the United States, I don’t see the decline as all that surprising.

Detroit and Buffalo — to name two U.S. frontier towns dependent on heavy industry for their economic base — experienced huge population declines during economic downturns.  In Detroit, crime — or the perception of crime — was the final straw for many of the emigres.

But, while the “drug war” — which only has taken off during the Calderón Administration (the last three years) — has somewhat speeded up the process, there isn’t all that much difference between Detroit and Juarez.

True,  much of the decline of Detroit involved a move to the  suburbs and a good part of the population that left the U.S. “rust belt” cities was absorbed by the surrounding communities, but Juarez is off in the middle of the desert.

Those whose livelihood is independent of manufacturing — service industry workers — are fairly likely to stay, but are going to move where the money is.  Most articles on the flight of the Juarez focus on those who’ve moved a family business to El Paso… which is still Metropolitan Juarez.  And the loss of amenities and services is likely to convince still more to leave.

Secondly, with emigration down, there are less people moving into Juarez to replace those who would have emigrated anyway.  And, since so many moved there just to work, with the economic downturn, they’re going back home, or moving on to other parts of Mexico.

And, given Juarez’ uncontrolled growth over the last two decades, the never adequate infrastructure and city services suck … as does living in the desert in the best of times … coupled with the negative publicity the city garners, people don’t want to move there right now.  Sort of like Detroit, which has harsh winters and had a very bad rep for crime and narcotics (although from the consumer and retail end, rather than the wholesale end of the trade).

It’s not surprising that industries in Juarez are now finding it difficult to recruit workers… many of them depended on the “floating” population which has floated away.

An Exodus?  Perhaps.  Certainly a trek through the desert might be involved, but to identify the “drug war” as the one and only reason is not just lazy thinking, it’s just another in an infinite series of attempts to “explain” Mexico in terms of U.S. concerns — like the “drug war” — and to view events in Mexico as somehow unique.

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