The business elite in Ciudad Juárez favor SUVs with darkened windows to temper the hot sun and keep the outside world from peering in. Jorge Contreras, businessman, civic leader, and philanthropist, has one (a Dodge Durango) and the requisite hulking bodyguard, too. But he prefers to move around his collapsing city by bicycle, so he can keep a close eye on abandoned buildings, streets filled with potholes, glaring federales, and the speeding, sinister cars without license plates.
"Juárez is dying. The houses in the center of the city are abandoned; there are so few opportunities here," says Contreras from his office inside the cavernous furniture factory he owns. Most famously, there's the violence. In 2010 alone, more than 3,100 people were killed here. Unlike most Mexicans, Contreras doesn't immediately mention the American hunger for drugs as the reason for his city's--and his country's--woes. "The true origin of the insecurity is corruption," he says, blaming a toxic brew of political and socioeconomic problems for the deterioration of public safety.
Contreras is not alone in his exasperation. He leads and belongs to a number of groups: Juárenses for Peace, Security Roundtable, Economic Development for Juárez, among others. They are part of a hodgepodge force of civic groups old and new founded by angry businessmen, doctors, and other professionals--an encouraging, if still small, indication that civil society in Juárez, and Mexico more broadly, is experiencing a form of awakening.