Their Present is Our Future

Across the river from UTEP, Colonia Felipe Angeles is poor. And it’s not even the poorest neighborhood in Juarez. Colonia Plutarco Elias Calles, on the other side of the Sierra Juarez, is even poorer than Felipe Angeles. Even the people who live in Colonia Plutarco Elias Calles aren’t as poor as the people who live at the dump in Juarez.

South of Felipe Angeles, the squalor runs on, little 700 square foot houses all the way up the mountain, housing families, sometimes generations, in four rooms. The streets are mostly unpaved. There’s water, mostly, and electricity almost universally, but there’s not a lot of opportunity.

These are the neighborhoods that feed the gangs, and the gangs that feed the cartels.

The allure of gang membership is strong. Why not join a gang? What are your choices? Continuing a pattern of generational poverty? By the time you’re six or seven or ten, your hand has been dealt. If your parents have been too busy putting food on the table to ensure that you are on the education treadmill, your odds of advancing in society are exactly the same as your odds of winning the lottery, because the only way you’ll advance in society is by winning the lottery.

And joining the gangs, and the cartels, is a death sentence. Those teenagers who sign up for the cartel know that. Enlisting in the cartel is a death pact. No one has any illusions about that. But it’s worth it, because life sucks.

When people are only offered poor options, they make poor choices. Drugs, maybe. Crime, maybe. Both. They’re inseparable.

And do you know who’s job it is to break that cycle of poverty and desperation?

No one’s.

I’m sure there are government agencies assigned to that task. But I’m equally sure that they’re underfunded. And I’m sure there are individuals that care, and do what they can, but the task is monumental. The efforts of any individual have little effect. And I’m sure the churches, and religious organizations on both sides of the border do what they can, but they’re like a few dozen ants trying to eat a herd of elephants.

No individual, or group, can solve this problem because the problem is structural. This is generational poverty, passed on from father to son and mother to daughter for generations.

The root of the problem’s endurance is that this problem isn’t a problem for the people making the decisions. Their dog gets fed no matter who dies of hunger, or violence, or drug abuse in the outer city. They never visit the slums. They rarely go to downtown. Downtown Juarez belongs almost exclusively to the people that live in the surrounding neighborhoods, and people that bus in from the outer fringes of the city.

And like Charles Bowden alluded to, Juarez is us. In a generation, or two generations, or three generations. Maybe only twenty years. Your kids, and your grandkids, will live in a society where people drop off the edge. We live in it now, and it’s only getting worse. The gulf between the wealthy and rest of us widens every day.

The middle class is shrinking. In El Paso most of the good jobs are government jobs. Government salaries are transfer payments. Government employees aren’t delivering a product. They’re not producing wealth. Some government employees provide a necessary service. Most don’t. But they all get paychecks.

A big part of the bureaucracy’s job is to feed the bureaucracy.

In El Paso, if you’re not working for the man, you’re working for the man working for the man.

Government isn’t going to tackle generational poverty and the widening wealth gap, because government is on the other side. Government and the fat cats work for each other. And even though everyone would be better off if the distribution of income and wealth were more equitable, if the poor people had more money to spend at the rich people’s businesses, the rich people don’t want that. Because the rich people don’t measure their worth by how good their lives are, or the good they do in the world. The rich people measure their worth by how much they have, relative to other rich people. If they have four cars, and their neighbors have five, they feel deprived. If their neighbor’s yacht is bigger than their yacht, they need to gouge some more money from poor people to buy a bigger yacht.

But the rich can’t shake down the poor people directly, Fortunately, the rich people have the government to shake down the poor people. So the rich people convince the government that the city or the state or the nation need a ballpark or a highway or an aircraft carrier, with a wink and a nod, and the government raises taxes.

The rich people don’t even have to get money directly, or even indirectly, from the poor. The rich people can just ask the government to lower their taxes, or give them tax rebates. That way they enjoy the benefits of the government services that the poor people pay for.

Remember when the politicians screamed that welfare was wealth redistribution? All of government is about redistributing wealth. When the government redistributes wealth from the rich people to the poor people that’s socialism, and it’s bad. When the government redistributes wealth from the poor people to the rich, that’s capitalism, and it’s good.

This reluctance to give money to the people is why the new pandemic relief proposal doesn’t include money for individuals. That’s too much like a Universal Basic Income, and a Universal Basic Income is too much like socialism.

Next thing you know we’ll have food lines running around the block, and people going hungry, and homeless and jobless.

Wait. We have that now.


  1. The generational culture of Mexican poverty is documented to perfection in Oscar Lewis’s masterpiece, The Children of Sanchez. 60+ years on and not much has changed except the introduction of the drug cartels to make it even worse. I always wondered who lived in those hovels I see from I-10. Thanks for documenting it.

    As for Juarez, why would anyone driving I-10 make a stopover anymore? The Avenida has been whitewashed so it’s a furnace on even a cool day, no more City Market, bull fights mostly gone, and the Mariscal….oh well the Mariscal is gone, too, though I suppose you can still get laid in Juarez.

  2. Maybe the worst part in Juarez situation is the lack of resistance organizations with popular support, any form of resistance basically from workers was repressed so this situation added to the secular poverty of Juarez.

  3. Our Drug War added fuel to this fire…the cabals became a major power, and now, if drugs are decriminalized, they will just switch to other activities…taking over businesses like the avocado trade…Akin to the mafia in Italy, very hard to eradicate a powerful social organization once it has been operating for several decades/generations…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *