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Resilient Juárez residents crave a bit of normalcy

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A new association called Juárez Competitiva (Competitive Juárez) is launching efforts to help rebuild Ciudad Juarez’s image, and ultimately promote the restoration of peace and order in this border city.

The group is comprised of Juárez civic and business leaders. A major part of these efforts is the recent announcement of a peace festival to be held Oct. 3-28. During the festival, organizers hope to hold concerts in Juárez for some of the biggest acts on the planet, including Paul McCartney, Shakira, U2, and Juan Gabriel among others. To date, no major act has been confirmed, but Juárez Competitiva members hope to have some announcements soon.

I have heard a lot of criticism from detractors about this event. Many people are saying that this group should focus on ending the violence instead of trying to promote a feel-good effort such as this. One person I spoke to told me, “This is like putting lipstick on a pig — ridding the city of the drug cartels and criminals should be the number one priority, not throwing concerts in the hope of bringing peace to this beleaguered city.” Since 2008, more than 7,600 people in Juárez have been victims of violence related to the drug wars and organized crime.

I agree that reducing crime and bringing stability to Juárez should be the top priority. However, I support what the organizers are doing and see a great benefit in holding this event.

When a crisis drags on and misery is perpetuated, it is very natural for human beings to want to do and experience normal things. Three years after the city became a battleground between warring cartels and the government, many people in Juárez have developed an amazing tolerance for the insecurity and uncertainty. People still have to leave their homes to go to work, shop, and attend family events. As one friend from Juarez told me, “We still have to live our lives. I can’t worry every minute of the day about getting killed. If it happens, it happens.”

Humans in war and crisis zones are forced to develop resiliency. I saw this back in the 1990s when I traveled to Colombia for business meetings. This was during the height of the war Pablo Escobar and the Colombian government were waging for control of the country. I landed at the Bogota Airport and much to my surprise, the plane parked on the runway until a series of buses came out to collect the passengers and take us to the terminal. We exited the buses and were directed to a large hole in the wall of the terminal that was covered by plastic sheets. An airport employee pulled back the plastic and we walked into customs.

As I stood in line, I asked one of the airport employees if they were renovating the airport. She nonchalantly told me that the government’s war with the drug cartels had flared up again. To retaliate against the government, the cartels had exploded a bomb at the airport that had caused the hole we were walking through.

I remember feeling uncomfortable, not necessarily because of the drug violence — I had traveled to Colombia fully aware of this — but by the calm, matter-of-fact way that this lady was answering my question. At the end of our conversation, she threw me a cheery “Have a great stay in Bogota!”

For the next week, I was conscious of the fact that I was in a city that was in the throes of drug violence. However, I would never have known this based on the composure of the Bogota residents, who went about their business as if nothing was happening.

It is natural for Mexicans to want to act normally in times of crisis. Indeed, this is part of the remedy. Mexicans have shown throughout their history a dogged resilience, even under the most adverse circumstances, whether it be brutal rule by Indian tribe against Indian tribe, oppressive Spanish rule over the natives, or the dominance of foreign powers in Mexico during the rule of President Porfirio Diaz.

The psyche of a whole generation in a city such as Juárez is being impacted. A young generation is growing up in a storm of violence and insecurity, which will be ingrained into their minds for years to come. How many Juárez kids will turn to drugs as a way to mitigate the fear of loss and pain? How many will grow to resent the U.S., whose appetite for illegal drugs is helping to fuel the violence?

What the festival will do, if it is successful, is to bring an element of normality and community unity to a city that is in dire need of both. Citizens of Juárez are ultimately the determining factor in resolving the violence and retaking control of their city. The festival is a step — maybe a small one, but a step nonetheless — in doing this.

Jerry Pacheco is the executive director of the International Business Accelerator, a nonprofit trade counseling program. He can be reached at 575-589-2200, Ext. 17, or at