CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — Just a few days after his one-year anniversary as the U.S. consul general in Ciudad Juárez, Ian Brownlee joined several other dignitaries Thursday for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a multimillion-dollar children’s museum here. The event’s guest list also included El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Earl Anthony Wayne, Chihuahua Gov. Cesar Duarte, current Ciudad Juárez Mayor Hector “Teto” Murguía and Enrique Serrano Escobar, who will succeed Murguía as mayor.
The event was hailed as another symbol of a rebound for the border city, where thousands of people were killed during a recent drug war between the Juárez and Sinaloa cartels. But pockets of violence still exist. Within hours of the ribbon-cutting, two municipal officers were killed, bringing the total to four officers killed in three days. Those events are less common these days, shedding some hope on the beleaguered city. But the optimism is guarded.
Brownlee took some time to talk with the Tribune about the recent homicides, if there is some anxiety leading up to the change in city leadership in October, if the war is truly over and what the U.S. is doing in Ciudad Juárez to contribute to its stability.
The following is an edited and condensed transcript of the interview.
Texas Tribune: How is the situation here? Five people were murdered Wednesday, then there will be two or three days without having a homicide. Is it difficult, when there are still pockets of violence, to maintain the reputation that Juárez is improving?
Ian Brownlee: Obviously it remains an issue. We’re continuing to work very closely, mainly with the municipal [police] here, but also with the state governments and with the [Chihuahua] attorney general’s office. There is some Merida money coming in still. We have a training class going on right now at the state academy.
TT: Who are Merida authorities training, the municipal police?
IB: They are training the municipal police, but for some reason they are doing it at the state academy. And then we have more soft-side stuff, Merida stuff, working with schools and programs like that. We’re trying to help and work with the community centers that exist here to give the communities a chance to sort of rescue its own kids, before they end up off in the pandillas (gangs).
TT: People are very pragmatic here. From what you understand, is the war over? Has there been some sort of agreement to where people can look forward to a peaceful Juarez?
IB: Honestly, I don’t know if the war is over. You can see just in terms of the numbers that there is far less violence going on. Whether there is an accommodation where one side won or the police are being more effective, I honestly don’t know the answer to that.
TT: Is there some concern about some instability leading up to October, when the city's new administration takes over?
IB: We’re not anticipating instability. I think what we’re seeing is evidence so far that the two teams, the existing Murguía team and the incoming Serrano team, are working together nicely to make sure there is a smooth transition there. Nobody is talking yet about particular positions, who is going to fill which positions.
TT: Is it good or bad from your perspective that there are fewer federal police and military patrolling the streets? Some Juarenses got heartburn when the streets were crowded with federales.
IB: That was before my time, but I think people are generally pleased to see the nucleus and the effectiveness of a police force here. We see a lot more on the streets. They look and act like a proper police force. There is a long way to go, I think, if you ask Mayor Murguía, if you ask Mayor-Elect Serrano, if you were to ask (Police Chief Julián) Leyzaola, he would say there is a long way to go. They have a nucleus of a force and that, I think, is more comforting to most people than to see the military.