Héctor Agustín Murguía Lardizábal campaigning in May 2009. (By: TRESdosUNO [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Ciudad Juárez in 2010 was worn out, desolate and in bad shape, says Hector “Teto” Murguía. He took office as mayor as the city reached a dangerous peak in murders per year. Today, three months from exiting his second term as mayor, he talks of the reduction of murders and says that Juárez is better off than how it was when he received it, and in some instances, better than it’s ever been.
According to the Fiscalía General del Estado, 3,116 murders were recorded in 2010 in Juárez, more than any other year since the outbreak of the fight for turf between the Sinaloa and Juárez drug cartels in 2007. Murguía, who leaves the office of mayor Oct. 10, says that at the time he felt the need to serve his community.
“I think that as politicians we have to have it very clear that our capacities, our devotion to serve as public officials, should not be conditioned by the circumstances,” Murguía says. “You’re there for the good or bad…The streets at 4 p.m. were completely desolate and, well, there was a great responsibility to serve, from the great affection and love that this land that is Juárez calls for.”
Murguía says that people are again coming out to events. “Safety is back in Juárez…There were 150 thousand people at the Grito (Independence Day); 250 thousand people or more in one park at the Chamizal during Easter; and now at the inauguration of the Plaza de la Mexicanidad, the X, there were more than 150 thousand people.”
Murguía says murder rates decreased under his term from 386 to 30. He says that was his greatest accomplishment as mayor. “I think it’s an accomplishment that not Palermo, not New York, nor Chicago were able to achieve in one term (what I did)…they achieved it in ten years.”
Tony Payan, associate professor of political science at the University of Texas at El Paso, says in terms of security, Murguía receives a passing grade. However, he did it with inhumane tactics, Payan says. “He did it with blatant violations of human rights,” says Payan, whose research includes political structures in the U.S.- Mexico border and agency behavior in the war on drugs. “People were beaten, people were tortured, people were taken off the streets with no probable cause and they were mistreated by the police, and he essentially looked the other way.”
While he maintains that Murguía is a relatively competent mayor compared to his predecessor, Jose Reyes Ferriz, Payan says he leaves the city in worst shape economically, socially and culturally.
“He obviously did terrible damage to the city otherwise,” Payan says. “He leaves an enormous public debt that is likely to saddle the next several city administrations.”
Murguía told El Diario de Juárez that the debt the current administration is to leave is reasonable and will not exceed ten percent, 300 million pesos, of the annual budget. Payan estimates that the city will be at least 2 billion pesos in debt after Murguía leaves office. “The money was presumably going to be used for public works and if you look at the city of Juárez today, and drive around, you will see that the infrastructure in the city is essentially in shambles.”
Work on several city streets is incomplete. Residents are finding it difficult to navigate through the construction. “They are undertaking public works in a way that looks disorganized, and doesn’t really consider small businesses, and doesn’t consider public transportation in a very serious way.”
Still, Murguía maintains that under his administration aid was provided to youth to assure a brighter future away from crime. He says that Juárez fits into the war on drugs as any other city that deals with drugs does—where, due to lack of opportunity, residents and youth turn to crime. “Juárez fits into this because of the great poverty that many Mexicans, many people of Juárez, young people and kids, in several instances don’t have a bright horizon. A lack of real equal opportunity makes a climate…where they can enter the wrong side of organized crime. That’s the reality.”
He says change was ignited in Juárez with the cooperation of the three branches of government and the citizenry, as well as by investing in city services. “How did we do it? Without a doubt by working hard and investing in the police, local and municipal, and in social services,” he says. “We invested large sums of money into community centers, the 47 that were established all throughout the city, to be able to rescue the paths of learning, of betterment for many young people and adults that don’t have that opportunity due to the great inequality that exists in Mexico.”
Thirteen million pesos were spent on 47 community centers, largely aimed at increasing access to medical care. Murguía says these types of centers and youth programs helped decrease crime in Juárez and that work should continue for the benefit of the youth. “We have to work together so that no child goes without food, without education, without health in case he gets sick, without a home. These are the essential parts.”
According to a June 30 Confirme poll, people of Juárez gave Murguía a grade of 6.7 out of 10. Sixteen percent approve of him very much, 50.1 percent approve of him, 18.3 percent disapprove of him and 14.9 percent disapprove of him completely; 0.7 percent didn’t know or didn’t answer.
Edd Sotelo, a student at the UACJ, says that although the municipal government under Murguía had its errors and faults, it also brought about noticeable change. “During his first term he drove employment and public safety. Now in his second (term), he’s also focused in improving infrastructure as the outstanding border that we are,” he says. “He’s played a role that he committed to fulfill with tasks and public works since his campaign, which has made Ciudad Juárez a city with better accessibility.”
Upon the end of his mayoral term, Murguía says he’ll stay in politics. “I’ll do my best to fulfill all the commitments I made with the citizens,” he says. “Without a doubt, I won’t stay put. I’ll keep participating as a politician in whatever function is presented to me.”
Elections for new mayor of Juárez will be held July 7.
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