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Juárez mayoral candidates wrap up campaigns; PRI and PAN lead the polls

by Andrés Rodríguez, Scripps Howard Foundation Wire // July 4, 2013 // Government

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    (Left to right) Debate moderator, Federico Salazar and the five mayoral candidates, Enrique Serrano Escobar (PRI-PVM-PANAL), Graciela Espejo Alvídrez (PRD), Maria Antonieta Pérez Reyes (PAN), Federico Ziga Martínez (PMC) and Héctor Hugo Avitia Arellanes (PT) at the debate held June 12 at the Centro Cultural Centro del Norte. (Anthony Martinez/ Newspaper Tree)

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    The crowd inside the Centro Cultural Paso del Norte auditorium as Maria Antonieta Pérez Reyes takes the stage during her campaign closure June30. (Andrés Rodríguez/ Newspaper Tree)

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    PRD mayoral candidate Graciela Espejo Alvídrez and one of her campaign aids at the temporary PRD headquarters in Juárez. (Andrés Rodríguez/ Newspaper Tree)

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    Supporters of PRI-PVM-PANAL candidate Enrique Serrano Escobar awaiting the performing acts following the candidate’s speech June 30 at the campaign closure at the Estadio Carta Blanca . (Andrés Rodríguez/ Newspaper Tree)

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    Enrique Serrano Escobar addressing members of the media after the June 12 debate. (Anthony Martinez/ Newspaper Tree)

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    The Municipal Administrative Unit building in Ciudad Juárez. Hector Murguía will leave the mayor’s office Oct. 10. (Andrés Rodríguez/ Newspaper Tree)

Campaigning for the 2013 Chihuahua state elections came to a close on July 3, after a 35-day campaign period, with the five mayoral candidates in Juárez championing platforms based partially on increasing security, and improving infrastructure and citizen-government cooperation.

The campaign period was shortened from three months to 35 days in Juárez and the city of Chihuahua, and 26 for other cities in the state.

The five Juárez mayoral candidates are María Antonieta Pérez Reyes of Partido Acción Nacional (PAN); Graciela Espejo Alvídrez of Partido de la Revolución Democrática; Héctor Hugo Avitia Arellanes of Partido del Trabajo (PT); Federico Ziga Martínez of Movimiento Ciudadano (PMC); and Enrique Serrano Escobar representing a coalition of three parties: the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), Partido Verde Ecologista de México (PVEM), and Nueva Alianza (PANAL).

The elections come at a crucial time for Juárez, said Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (UACJ) professor and investigator, José Eduardo Borunda. “The mid-term elections have a very special meaning because Ciudad Juárez is beginning to recover from a crisis of public insecurity where murders, kidnapping, the fight for the control of the plaza (and) drug trafficking imprisoned Ciudad Juárez,” Borunda said. “In such a way, Ciudad Juárez is left hurt, thousands of jobs were lost, businesses closed, and there was a high index of migration.”

According to a 2012 study by the UACJ, 230,000 people migrated out of Juárez, 24.25 percent of those to El Paso, from 2007 to 2009, during an outbreak of unprecedented violence between the Sinaloa and Juárez drug cartels. In 2010, during the latest census, unemployment in Juárez was recorded at 10.8 percent, more than double the 5.3 percent rate in the rest of the country.

While the candidates have advocated for an increase in security, better policing, more jobs and improving infrastructure, the proposals have been weak this year, Borunda said. “(Juárez) requires long-term planning, a project of regional development, a governing plan that would enable it to regain the economic motor that it had for decades,” he said. “And above all, it requires working with all levels of society, and working with other government entities at the federal and state level. That’s what should be present in the discourse and that’s what we’re not seeing in this electoral campaign.”

The PRI-PVM-PANAL coalition and PAN candidates lead the polls

According to an El Diario de Juárez-sponsored poll conducted by Confirme, Serrano Escobar leads with 49.1 percent. He is followed by Pérez Reyes with 33.1 percent, Espejo Alvídrez with 2.7 percent, Avitia Arellanes with 1.2 percent and Ziga Martínez with 0.9 percent. While recent polls have differed, the PRI-PVM-PANAL coalition and PAN candidates maintain the top two spots.

During a June 12 debate, organized by the Asamblea Municipal Electoral de Juárez (AMEJ) at the Centro Cultural Paso del Norte, the mayoral candidates were given an allotted time to respond and offer replies to questions of security, infrastructure and social development, among others.

Serrano Escobar, the 55-year-old PRI candidate, said that the Centro de Emergencia y Respuesta Inmediata (CERI) would begin work with local police when he takes office, and added that he would not tolerate impunity in the police force. “We have to make a police that’s more professional, more effective, with training and education for our police men, especially in regards to normative order, which are laws, and the area of human rights. We will establish neighborhood policing and obtain results.”

Serrano Escobar holds a degree in public administration from the UACJ, another in public administration from the Universidad Autónoma de Chihuahua and a masters in business administration from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey.

Since 1978 he’s been a part of the PRI, where he’s served as collaborator and electoral campaign activist, founder of a student federation, and coordinator of a program dedicated to political commitment in Juárez. He served as the representative for the 60th federal legislature for District 1 and in 2010 he was the local representative and coordinator of the PRI caucus in the Chihuahuan Congress.

Serrano Escobar’s government plan includes infrastructure projects such as the cleaning, remodeling and reconstruction of facades and sidewalks across the city, and restoring the city’s downtown.

“We will conclude the plan of urban mobility in the first year and give Juárez a better look. We will also place the public transportation system in operation immediately,” Serrano Escobar said. “The historic district plaza, we’re going to finish the convention center and we’ll build green areas in the neighborhoods that are in dire need of them.”

Pérez Reyes, the PAN candidate who describes herself as a “Juarense of birth and of heart,” said she would implement preventive programs to educate the women of Juárez about femicides. She also said that women will be better protected under her term. “In a corrective manner, we’ll have to place special vigilance in those sectors, those city areas that insistently and historically have been identified as places where these crimes against women are committed.”

Pérez Reyes, who became an active member of PAN as coordinator of Juárez during pre-campaigning for the presidential candidacy in 2005, proposes the creation of a long-term institute of security, to halt abuses from police, and to create a neighborhood policing system. She also plans to give citizens the right to record video of any interaction with local authorities.

Pérez Reyes studied business administration at the Instituto Tecnológico de Ciudad Juárez and obtained her master’s in public administration from the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey. She became a federal representative in 2009 for the 55th legislature for District 3 and was one of the founders of the Centro Humano de Liderazgo in Juárez.

During her campaign, Pérez Reyes addressed security, economy, social and urban development, and civil society. At the June 12 debate, she delineated proposals for bettering infrastructure and public services. These included incentivizing housing development in equipped areas, reworking parks and adding free Internet access to public parks, community centers and international bridges.

“It’s impossible to cope with public services. There’s geographic expansion but no development,” she said. “The plan for urban mobility will be reinstated, carrying out works in a gradual and orderly manner.” She also said public interest, and not private interest, will be taken into consideration in construction and development.

Outside the debate location, supporters of the PAN and PRI gathered with party flags and chanted the candidates’ names, despite requests made by AMEJ to refrain from cheering and using materials of propaganda.

Serrano Escobar was the first to exit the building to a chanting crowd. Omar Pallan, a PRI supporter was among those screaming. “I agree with the proposals. I think he’s the best person to lead the city, to satisfy the needs that this city has,” he said.

Alejandro Herrera, one of the young PAN supporters outside, waited for Pérez Reyes to exit the building and greet the crowd. “She’s been working hard, in this case, for the issues that the citizens are concerned with,” Herrera said. “I thought it was very good that someone stood up to the (gas supplier) monopoly that for about 100 years has been leaving the citizens’ pocketbooks dry…Defending citizens, respecting public spaces and to always be looking for ways to better the citizens and more than anything the city, I find very important. That’s why I support her.”

Both candidates held end-of-campaign events on June 30. Each candidate nearly filled their venue to capacity, Pérez Reyes at the Centro Cultural Paso del Norte, and Serrano Escobar at the Estadio Carta Blanca.

The other candidates

Candidates outside the PRI-PVM-PANAL and PAN poll a combined 4.8 percent, according to El Diario de Juárez.

Borunda said the election will go to the PRI or PAN candidates as it has in the past. “Here in Ciudad Juárez, there’s been predominately in the past years a bipartisanship between the PRI and PAN, which is difficult to overcome,” he said. “There’s a disenchantment from the leftist parties (PRD, PT and PMC), which seem fragmented and divided. And so they’re left out of any possibility (of winning).”

Espejo Alvídrez, a Juárez-born ex-member of PAN, said during the debate that she’ll stick to the current public safety plan which expires in 2015. “This plan should not be politicized, not with institutes or with congresses because it’s a technical police problem,” she said. “Upon taking office, we have to revise the current plan, revise its advances and setbacks to adjust it.”

Espejo Alvídrez, who ran last year as federal representative for District 1, said phase two of the public safety plan would see the implementing of programs of social prevention funded by Pacto por México, which would make cities self-sufficient in preventative measures.

She was elected into the State Council of PRD in Chihuahua City. She holds a bachelor’s in business administration and has postgraduate studies in fiscal planning. She also holds a diploma from the Supreme Court of Justice in international, constitutional and electoral law. Her platform consists of free government in which, she said, the best citizens participate and not the best politically positioned people. Among her proposals is the revitalization of downtown, support for education, free speech and transparency in resources.

Businessman Ziga Martínez assumed the leadership of Movimiento Ciudadano in Juárez late last year. Ziga Martínez, a federal representative candidate for District 3 in the past elections, said an unsafe city can be changed by investing in human development. “Weapons, patrol cars, motorcycles, bullet-proof vests (and) security cameras are not the solution to the safety problem,” he said. “It’s values, it’s education, it’s by example and it’s the professionalizing of the police bodies with values, education and employment.”

Avitia Arellanes said on his first public appearance as mayoral candidate that he comes from a founding family of the PT and of the Comite de Defensa Popular en Juárez. He has been a teacher for 12 years and is currently the assistant principal of the Secundaria Técnica number 89. Avitia Arellanes, who holds a doctorate in education, said Juárez citizens are still demanding safety even after past attempts to restore it, including the coming of the federal police.

“It’s necessary to implement a model of public safety close to the people, where the local police are part of the development of their community.” Avitia Arellanes said. “As a teacher I’m convinced that (the lack of) safety decreases with social development and citizen participation.”

Amelia Ozaeta, a PT representative candidate for District 4, said that what drew her to the worker’s party was that they represent all the people, not just the rich or businessmen. She said Avitia Arellanes stuck to his platform during the debate and refrained from aggressive tactics.

“I think he kept at the margins, without attacking, without aggressions, but truly giving his point of view, the proposals he has and that he’ll manage,” Ozaeta said. “What better way to demonstrate it without seeing who to hurt, but by focusing on what it really matters, the necessities of Ciudad Juárez.”

Espejo Alvídrez (PRD) and Pérez Reyes (PAN) on El Paso-Juárez relations

The PRD candidate said that although for the past four months she’s seen more and more El Pasoans in Juárez, work still needs to be done between the chambers of commerce of the two cities to incentivize tourism and bring about cultural and sporting exchanges.

Among her proposals to strengthen El Paso-Juárez ties and tourism is finishing construction of the “Willy-Huachinera” interstate which would connect the states of Chihuahua and Sonora and offer the region a direct sea-port route. Espejo Alvídrez said 70 kilometers are left to be constructed along the state line. “Juárez and El Paso are in a privileged position at the center of the U.S. and Mexico,” she said. “However we don’t have an exit to the ocean, which is also an important tourism route, and commercially we are in need of a way to the ocean.”

She said that the route, which would depart from Juárez, would hit important tourism destinations on the outskirts of the city including archeological zones, forests and the Paso del Norte colonizers’ trail. She would also advocate for the construction of entertainment venues and hotels along the route to encourage tourism, she said.

Espejo Alvídrez also said that her administration would promote that that the railway Chihuahua al Pacifico, which connects the city of Chihuahua to the coastal city of Los Mochis, Sinaloa, also connect in Juárez. Work to reinstate suspended aerial routes departing from Juárez will also be implemented, she said.

Although concerns regarding migration and the Rio Grande are seen to at the federal level, Espejo Alvídrez said her administration would promote better policing of the border and a cleaner river. “My idea is to create an ecological reserve around the river, monitored by the National Institute of Migration…and for the city to work in conjunction with special operations police to secure the zone.”

She proposes retaking the revitalizing of downtown and creating a livelier arts scene to bring in tourism. A combined effort with El Paso would be made to promote both of the cities’ downtowns as historic destinations, she said.

Pérez Reyes, who as a federal representative was part of the committee that helped coordinate daylight savings time between El Paso and Juárez, said that cooperation is necessary between the two cities to get their respective governments to take notice in cross-border trade, bridge waiting times and ecological concerns. “Economy in El Paso, Texas, is 80 percent trade and that great percentage is supported by the local Mexican economy, so we either resolve things together in harmony or both cities will be hurt,” she said. “Each one will have to work at the national, state or local levels, whichever works.”

The PAN candidate said that under her term as mayor, domestic obstacles will come first before promoting tourism. “As long as Ciudad Juárez fails to have, as a community, a decent standard of living, less injustice (and) more safety, it’ll never be attractive for tourism,” she said. “I think that in order to attract tourism it’ll require a second stage and I don’t think that the next three years will be enough to reach that.”

One term is not enough to prepare the downtown area for tourism, she said. “We have to see about the urban mobility plan that has the streets destroyed. We have to see about protecting that area in terms of safety."

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