erson border. ooper sizes up pundits, its border residents who have to live with the fences and tanks and consequences. The truth differs wildly from the perception. Certainly, El Paso’s symbiotic relationship with Juarez has been disrupted by the explosion of drug violence south of the border, which began to tick up in January 2008. But it’s not the kind of disruption brought to you by CNN, Fox, and the rest of the media pack. The real impact of the ongoing tragedy in Juarez is felt by El Pasoans in more indirect and personal ways. While the brutality across the river has not caused a wave of kidnappings and murders in El Paso, folks do feel its effects every day. Families are divided. El Pasoans can no longer visit their friends, relatives, doctors or dentists in Juarez. Businesses on both sides suffer. The stories are legion: The high-school student who can’t visit her beloved, 105-year-old grandmother because her parents don’t want to risk her safety. The young Juarez woman who worries that her El Paso friends and relatives won’t be able to attend her wedding. And the many families mourning loved ones lost on the other side of the Rio Grande. . All too often the nightly news portrays Juarez and El Paso as one and the same, with the U.S. city symbolizing the perils of that new buzzword: spillover. Night after night, TV spin-meisters, retired generals, terror analysts and politicians rage on about spillover violence. They call Mexico a “failed state” and argue for militarizing the border. No wonder Americans are scared. No wonder El Pasoans feel doubly besieged. Consider this gem from former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, now a consultant for ABC News, commenting on Juarez: “There is in fact an insurgency on both sides of the American-Mexican border, and it’s stepped up a lot in the last several years because the Bush administration ignored it and put its focus on Iraq.” After weeks of hearing the war drums beat louder and louder, Sito Negron, editor of El Paso’s online daily news journal, Newspaper Tree, recently decided he’d had enough. An insurgency on both sides? he thought, listening to Clarke’s prime-time pronouncement. Are you kidding me? According to the FBI, more than 1,600 people were killed by cartel violence in Juarez in 2008. El Paso, a city of 755,000, recorded just 18 murders last year. Laredo had 11; Brownsville and McAllen had three and nine, respectively. By comparison, Washington, D.C., with a population smaller thah El Paso’s, had 186 homicides in 2008. A native El Pasoan, Negron was fed up with national media feeding the frenzy to militarize his hometown. He published an opinion piece on Newspaper Tree titled, “Who are you idiots, and why are you on national television talking about the border? An open letter to U.S. media”: Get this straight. The violence is not “spilling over the border” into the U.S. No, every time you say that, whether you mean to “I’ll tell them there hasn’t been any spillover of violence into El Paso, and then they will turn around and report that there is.” or not, you’re conjuring up images of crazed Mexicans crossing the border to burn Columbus, and you have it backwards. It spilled over from the U.S. into Mexico and Latin America long ago. … [F. 1 or the past 20 years, we’ve been slowly turning the border into a militarized zone, so let’s not say there isn’t violence associated with both sides of the drug trade and the Drug War. We could say that we’re now sharing the violence to a higher degree, an important distinction from the simple-minded terminology of “spilling over.” “I’m happy that the border is an important place,” Negron said a few days after writing the piece. “But I’m not happy about the context in which they place it. I’m generally a little more mainstream, but I got a bit loose with the editorial because I was ticked off:” Other El Pasoans share his pique. Negron’s piece generated several dozen comments, mostly along this line: “[C] ongratulations on hitting the nail on the head. I am so tired of hearing socalled pundits speak about the border without being here and experiencing it for themselves:’ Negron cops to his own role in whipping up the frenzy. In January he penned an article for Texas Monthly called, “Baghdad, Mexico:’ comparing the carnage in Juarez to the insurgent violence in Iraq. He wishes he hadn’t made the comparison, he says, because it helped fan the blaze of overheated news coverage. “I regret using the word ‘Baghdad’ because people from elsewhere who don’t know much about the border or Mexico see that word and think, ‘We better send the military down there,” Negron says. “The border becomes a backdrop for the nation’s fears and anxieties instead of a place where real people live’ In late March, constituents criticized El Paso Mayor John Cook for missing a civic forum on the city’s east side. Cook couldn’t make it because he was being interviewed by BBC anchor Katty Kay. The BBC, Kay said, had infor mation that drug violence had spilled into El Paso. Cook was eager to set the record straight. He’s had plenty of practice lately, with national and international media frequently asking him about the situation in Juarez and in his 9 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 17, 2009
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