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Mexican City Weighs Neglected Notion: Hope

Three years after a municipal election was held under the specter of fear and death in this border city, voters on Sunday ushered in a new leader in Ciudad Juárez. But a new administration and a new peace can only go so far.

Ignacio Villa, left, and Arturo Ibarra, right, of the mariachi group Los Gavilanes receive shoe shines on Avenida Juárez in Ciudad Juárez, México, Jul. 9, 2013.

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — The scars of years of fighting in this city across the border from El Paso can be seen in the faded missing-person fliers posted years ago or in the far-off stares of residents at the plaza.

But beneath the memories of what some observers call the region’s most violent period since the Mexican Revolution, there is also a guarded sense of a new beginning. With a steep decline in violence and a new mayor taking office, some residents are so bold as to talk of “hope” for their city, though others are not willing to go that far.

People are out in Ciudad Juárez again, almost six years after a drug war that started between the Sinaloa Cartel, led by Joaquín Guzmán Loera, and the local Juárez drug organization resulted in a staggering death toll. (Estimates vary from 10,000 to 12,000 killed from 2007 to 2012.) On Sunday, the city elected Enrique Serrano Escobar of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, as its next mayor. Campaigning on a pledge to continue the crime-fighting efforts of the last three years, Serrano soundly defeated María Antonieta Pérez Reyes from the conservative National Action Party, or PAN.

Serrano will take his oath in October, but residents are not certain what to make of the transition and its effect on crime in the city. Several credit the decline in murders, which peaked at more than 3,600 in 2010 and fell to fewer than 1,000 in 2012, to a possible agreement between the drug organizations or a victory by one over the other.

“I don’t know why,” said Jose Gregorio Romo, who frequents the plaza, when asked what he thought had brought about the peace. “Maybe they’ve killed everybody they had to kill. They finished with everyone.”

Armando Rocha, who shines shoes across the street from the Plaza de Armas, voted for the PRI candidate on Sunday. He calmly discussed how at the height of the violence, a gangster could be seen on every corner of the plaza, acting as a lookout or awaiting a payoff.

Now, he said, one is spotted more infrequently. He believes the peace is the result of a gang accord and said that life was better in the city. But he also conceded that his vote on Sunday was for more of the same, a government many are suspicious of, but is the lesser of two evils.

"When the PRI robs, at least they distribute some of what they take,” he said, lowering his voice and looking over his shoulder. “The PAN doesn’t.”

Serrano will succeed Héctor Murguía, known as Teto, who brought in Julián Leyzaola, the former Tijuana police chief, instead of keeping the Mexican military to police the city.

Some have credited his efforts with directly helping to clean up Ciudad Juárez, but he has also been accused of strong-arm tactics that violate basic rights.

From her beverage and snack stand on Avenida Juárez, Maria Flores said there had been dramatic but positive changes since 2011. She has noticed more people visiting recently.

But her thoughts on the mayoral candidates were that, despite different campaigns, they were all the same.

“To each their own,” she said. “I prefer a person who tries to fight crime and corruption, but who is balanced.”

So instead of casting a ballot on Sunday, she said, she chose to support a higher being.

“Only the almighty God governs us, so that’s why I don’t vote,” she said. 

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