Mexico’s Lost Generations

When Juarez’s (soon to be outgoing) Mayor Jose Reyes-Ferriz visited Austin last April something he said stuck with me.

He told the audience that a failure to invest in schools and other public infrastructure had led to the lawlessness in his city. Instead of schools and daycare centers, city leadership only invested in maquila parks and roads. Children were left on the streets to fend for themselves as their parents worked in the maquila factories for meager wages.

“We’ve lost maybe one or two generations to the streets,” he said.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s war on the drug cartels began shortly after he took office in December 2006. His focus has been on more troops, bullets and firepower but not on the intense poverty, lack of jobs or the educational divide growing in his country.

What he should be fighting is a war against poverty and impunity. In Mexico the gap between rich and poor continues to grow and only a small fraction of murders and rapes are ever solved.

What choice do these “children of the lost generation,” have when then are increasingly no choices? When they have no hope for any type of job except a low-wage and repetitive job in a maquila, and the price of everything: housing, food, utilities continues to rise.

Increasingly, they turn to crime or the cartels. In many cases, it’s teens and young adults now who are committing the murders for cartels and who are serving as the cannon fodder in Calderon’s war. More than 23,000 Mexicans have died since Calderon’s crackdown began in 2006.

After the senseless slaughter of 15 teenagers at a birthday party in Juarez last January, Calderon couldn’t ignore his countrymen’s fury over their innocent deaths.

He and his cabinet flew to the beleaguered city of 1.6 million and promised a whole host of social and educational programs. He called the $260 million project Todos Somos Juarez, or “We Are All Juarez.”

A Los Angeles Times article this week reports that through the program, the government is starting to build parks, schools and hospitals.

According to the article: “More than 5,000 residents have received job-training grants or temporary work sprucing up parks and sidewalks and planting trees. Officials added thousands of families to a government insurance program and handed out 6,000 scholarships in a city where few students were receiving such help.”

“It’s not enough to analyze it only in terms of public safety. You have serious gaps in the social and economic [areas] that have to be closed,” said Antonio Vivanco, a Calderon advisor overseeing the development effort.

Calderon is finally acknowledging the obvious but the changes will take years and Juarenses are understandably tired and fed up with the corruption and impunity. At least Calderon got one thing right – the name of the program “Todos Somos Juarez.” Because what is happening in Juarez is also happening in the states of Tamulipas, Durango, Nuevo Leon and the rest of Mexico for that matter.

Millions of youths have no hope. And so they take the $45 a week and a pistol from the cartels and they do their bidding. And as long as they have no other choice the cartels will win.

Melissa del Bosque is a staff writer and a 2015-16 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.

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Published at 5:23 pm CST
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