WASHINGTON – The violence and crime that have stained the name of the U.S.-Mexico border region is uniting its residents, who want to regain a clean status.
The innumerable reports of murder, kidnappings and extortions brought by drug trafficking to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, are the main factor contributing to the exodus of about 230,000 middle class families and more than 10,000 businesses since 2006.
Residents of the region created a new initiative called “Juárez Competitiva” to advertize the city’s assets and cultural value to create economic growth.
Officials at the Embassy of Mexico announced the project’s launch at a news conference Monday.
“It’s an effort to understand that not only by confronting organized crime will you be able to push back. You need to provide economic growth,” Arturo Sarukhan, ambassador of Mexico to the U.S., said.
Arturo Chavira, president of Juarez Competitiva, said the initiative was created by 350,000 volunteers. They put together a series of cultural, entrepreneurial, scientific, technological and artistic events that will take place from Oct. 13 to 28 in Juarez.
Leticia Gutierrez organized “Días de la Familia,” (Family Days) a two-day event with 82 free activities.
Gutierrez said being a business executive in Juarez and “the desire to work to incite change” led her to volunteer.
On Oct. 13 the group will celebrate the inauguration of the initiative with 50 world corporate leaders who invest in Juarez. Mexican President Felipe Calderón is expected to attend.
Far from being the end, Oct. 28 represents a beginning, Chavira said. The group plans to continue long-term projects that include promoting job creation, new investments and training for youths, women and senior citizens.
Chavira estimated that to be successful the group needs $10 billion from businesses, federal, state and local government and private contributions. He would not say how much the group has raised so far.
“We have decided that we will no longer be spectators, yet we will become leading actors participating in the solution of our problems with real and concrete proposals,” Chavira said.
He described the need to unite the community and create positive role models for the city’s young people as one of the movement’s main goals.
During his stay in Washington, Chavira met with officials at the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat who represents El Paso, to present the project and request their support.
Chavira said the response the state of Chihuahua has gotten from neighbor cities of El Paso, Albuquerque N.M., and Las Cruses, N.M., has been positive. The group counts on support and participation from El Paso Mayor John Cook and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, R, who appointed an advertizing representative in New Mexico. Neither responded to messages asking for comment.
“We are an economic region,” Chavira said. “We are united as three states, two countries, but one objective, which is to reinforce our objective of economic and social integrity in a more beneficial way.”
Chavira said the group didn’t get as enough publicity initially to encourage other border cities to support the cause, but he is certain the project’s objective will benefit the entire border region.
“We are convinced that the solution has always been in the hands of society in being united and sharing common objectives and goals,” Chavira said.
Editor’s note: This story was previously published on Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.