From Juarez to Rio, Social Programs Can Reduce Violence

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Programs to rebuild the social fabric of troubled border city Juarez, one of the most violent in Mexico, can be compared to Rio de Janeiro’s program to introduce community-based policing to favelas controlled by traffickers.

While Juarez remains highly dangerous, the city has experienced a rebound in 2011. As InSight Crime has reported, the number of murders in May dropped to a two-year low, and the city is on pace to be significantly less violent in 2011 than last year.

Felipe Angeles, a poor neighborhood right along the border with El Paso, illustrates that improvement. After a 2008 high of 180 murders in this single neighborhood, the figure is on pace to reach roughly one-eighth of that total this year.

But as Excelsior reports, the easing of violence was not entirely a result of sending in more police, but rather of government investment in initiatives like the web of community centers that have provided some sense of stability to some of the most chaotic areas of the city.

The focus on the social aspect of Juarez’s recovery began with the program Todos Somos Juarez, which was launched in the aftermath of an attack that killed 15 law-abiding teenagers in January of 2010. The following month, the federal government announced the $60 million plan, which set aside money to fund school and hospital construction, after-school programs, sports leagues, and other activities not typically associated with security.

While the Excelsior report focuses exclusively on the potential of social organizations to reduce crime, ignoring the very real need to improvd the police and impose the rule of law across the city, there is no question that social problems in Juarez have contributed to declining security. One recent study found that 64 percent of the city’s residents between the ages of 15 and 24 neither study nor work. According to a 2008 Proceso article, only two public high schools operate on the western side of town, where more than 40 percent of the city’s 1.3 million residents live.

The lack of alternatives helps direct youths to a life of crime, whether in in transnational drug networks or smaller bands. A 2010 report from Mexican authorities estimated that 1,500 street gangs operate in Juarez alone.

Excelsior compares the successes of Juarez’s Centro El Refugio with the social emphasis of the Pacifying Police Units sent in to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, as part of a program to assert government control over these neglected areas of the city. Like Juarez’s poor neigborhoods, the favelas are notorious for their social decay, and Excelsior reports that the UPP’s greater attention to social needs of the areas’ vulnerable residents has served as a valuable complement to their police work.

The following is InSight Crime’s partial translation of the Excelsior report:

The director-general of community centers of the Juarez city government, Maurilio Fuentes, believes that at the end of the year there will be 40 centers, and his hope is that at the end of the present administration, in 2013, they will have 60; “with this I assure you that the criminals will have to go somewhere else,” he said, half serious, half joking…


Fuentes reveals a statistic that supports his project: in the Felipe Angeles neighborhood, in 2008, there were 180 murders with firearms; in 2009 113; in 2010, 80, and thus far·in 2011, there have been just 12. “What more can we say so that they see that this is the path to stop the violence in Ciudad Juarez?”


With the example of 35 community centers that have been installed in Ciudad Juarez, and the pledge to have “the largest [center] in Latin America” in the neighborhood of Francisco I. Madero, the mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Hector El Teto Murguia, says that it is only through this process that the border town will be reborn as a national role model.

“We are fully convinced that the solution of resorting only to police is completely misguided. The only option that we have is that we have to give equality of opportunity to the people,” he said…


For Brazil, combating organized crime and simultaneously reducing the levels of violence has been possible thanks to the creation of a new military command that, through activities like playing football with the residents and offering classes of martial arts, keeps the dominion of the cartels far from the communities.


The strategy applied by the government of Rio de Janeiro since 2008 has been implemented in 18 favelas and is an answer from the government to recover territories that, thanks to the institutional vacuum, have been controlled by cartels and private militias — to the extent that drug traffickers controlled public services like transportation, legitimized weddings, and imposed punishment on the inhabitants.

Since its creation in 2008, the violence has dropped drastically, and property values have increased, for which UPP is considered a success in the fight against organized crime in that region. Currently, close to 200,000 people have benefited from this program.

“This unit did away with violence 100 percent. Inside the UPP there are very few confrontations because there is no need for violence,” explained Leandro Martins, representative of the Pacifying Police Unit in that community.

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