Juarez has always been a volatile place. It is a border city that draws huge numbers of migrants seeking work, and engenders large discrepancies between its wealthiest and poorest residents — all factors associated with violence.
However, mapping this phenomenon does not necessarily yield the expected results. A recent study (pdf) by two prominent social scientists funded by the HASOW initiative at PUC-Rio noted that violence in Juarez in 2009-2010 was concentrated in certain sectors of the city, as expected, but did not always follow the expected pattern in terms of the socio-economic status of the victims.
Using government-furnished data, the researchers, Robert Muggah of Igarape (Brazil) and Carlos Vilalta of CIDE (Mexico), found that violent incidents were centered in the northwest and southwest quadrants, specifically three areas of the city known as Delicias, Aldama and Babicora Sur.
They then determined whether six specific “risk factors” were present in these areas. These risk factors are based on what is known as social disorganization theory, which seeks to explain criminal behavior by “focusing on the compositional and contextual characteristics of specific settings.” According to this theory, there are numerous factors that lead to higher rates of violence, such as size of the immigrant population, education and poverty rates.
Of these factors, the researchers found that “population from another state” was the one that most correlated to these violent areas (see maps, below). In Juarez — a border town where much of the population has come from other areas in search of work in the “maquila” industry — this is not surprising.
What was surprising was that the more educated areas corresponded to the highest rates of violence. Although it bears mentioning that “educated” is defined as a 9th grade education in Mexico, the researchers seem confounded by this result; as they say, more research is needed. “It is difficult to interpret this finding in the absence of more information on the perpetrators,” they write.
Equally baffling was the high rate of violence in areas where “social welfare” programs were strong. Specifically, the researchers used the social security benefits for state workers to illustrate that violence corresponded to ostensibly “middle class” districts.
Finally, there is a discrepancy with regards to the poor areas. The researchers had two tiers of poor: one in which there is “no access to water” and “vacant housing”; and one in which there are “occupied housing units with no cemented floors.” The former (i.e., slightly richer) corresponded to more violent areas.
The overall takeaway from this study is difficult to discern, but the obvious preliminary conclusion is alarming: violence took place in largely middle class areas in Juarez. The reasons for this, as the authors themselves say, are harder to decipher. “Such unique events probably demand a wider study beyond demographic and socioeconomic composition variables,” they write.