Report From Juarez

I am an accidental witness to recent turmoil in Juarez.

Last Wednesday I walked into a riot.

I was looking for a stop where I could catch the Azul, Juarez’ newest bus rapid transit with destinations al poniente sur, when I came up on a collection of Municipal Police trucks with their party lights flashing. They were parked in front of the Hotel Ursula, a four story building at the intersection of ferrocarril and dieciseis. They trucks were parked behind some IMF vans. IMF is the Mexican immigration service. A crowd of protestors, maybe 150, had them hemmed in against the building. Across the street, interested bystanders leaned against a wall. I moved in closer to get some pictures.

The Guardia Nacional, in their off-white urban camoflage, brandished their M-16s at the restive crowd, many of whom were armed with smartphones to document the action.

A merchant lowered the metal shades in front of the windows to his shop.

The civilians got rowdy. Someone yelled “Seultelos”. Rocks started to fly. I moved to the corner of the building where I could get an unobstructed view of the action, but also so that there was a wall I could get behind if the violence escalated into gunfire.

I saw a guardsman duck a rock, and more rocks strike windshields.

Men and women in civilian clothes got into the front seats of the IMF vans. More rocks flew. As one of the vans started to drive away, one of the protestors approached the driver’s window and threw a rock from two feet away, transforming the window to shards of safety glass. The driver punched it, accelerating away.

I put my camera into my backpack and walked to a nearby bar to get directions to the bus stop.

* * *

Sunday at noon I walked over the bridge.

A crowd of U.S. Customs agents, most of whom wore helmets with clear face masks, were gathered at the top of the bridge. An apparently senior agent stood at the line that marked the border with binoculars, looking down the bridge at Juarez.

The customs agents stopped pickup trucks, giving them a cursory inspection. They waved cars through.

I stepped over into Mexico so I could take pictures out of the agents’ jurisdiction. Sometimes they’re camera shy.

I walked down the bridge into Mexico. A crowd had gathered at the toll booths. I walked through them, taking pictures. The crowd was mostly young men, but there were also some women, and babies, carried by people of both genders.

I walked through Juarez, as is my wont, and returned to the Paso del Norte bridge, but the bridge was closed. Neither pedestrians or cars were passing through to the U.S.

I walked east, and called an Uber, and got a ride to the Chamizal, about a half a mile from the south end of the Bridge of the Americas. The Uber driver said that it was as close as he could get.

The cars were backed up almost to the periferico.

To my surprise, the pedestrian line was trifling. All four pedestrian lanes were staffed, and the wait was less than five minutes.

I caught an Uber back to downtown El Paso.

* * *

The dollar is taking a beating at the money exchange houses. The window rate was down to 17.60 pesos per dollar. A couple of months ago it was close to 19, and during the worst days of the pandemic the rate was close to 20. A margarita at the Kentucky Club costs close to $4. Remember when they used to cost $2.50?

The increased price of the margarita is all attributable to inflation. We’re also seeing a change in relative prices, i.e., the K Club management is charging more because they can get more. More power to them.

Despite the turmoil, or maybe because of the action, Juarez is still the most vibrant part of our broader border community. None of the so-called “public amenities” foisted on us by our arrogant city officials can compete with all our sister city has to offer.

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