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Juarez and the Action We Should Take

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The violence in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico is not the result of unintelligent US or Mexican policy. It's the result of a lack of opportunity for what were once vulnerable Mexican youth. When these adults were young, they found their opportunity in the drug game, but not just in its quick cash and lavish lifestyle. More attractive to them, whether they knew it or not, were the opportunities to be a part of something and to define their identities; two things youth strive for around the world. Unfortunately, drug cartels filled this particular void for them.

Before I saw the dead body of a pregnant US Consulate worker just feet from the El Paso, Texas city line, I met with roughly twenty active Juarez citizens, as I said in my last post. Throughout the day and at various places, I listened to locals discuss the status quo of the city, what activities there were for kids between the ages of 7 and 12, and the reality of trying to organize an athletic program for kids from different financial backgrounds.

While they didn't express a serious sense of urgency for a program to be up and running -- which was what I expected -- they were in absolute agreement that more kids from various backgrounds needed to be reached, and that no particular socioeconomic group of youth be left out.

Based on what I've seen in my work using sports as a means of diplomacy in Latin America and Northern Ireland, I find it is often the areas of extreme deprivation within a city -- the areas in which opportunity for youth lacks most -- where violence and sectarianism are more apt to breed and materialize.

While US news sources portray the city as a lawless mess of gangs, drugs and homicides, it's important to know that people still go out and live normal lives. The cartels haven't taken dictatorial control of the city...yet; some locals in Juarez tell me that there are neighborhoods where normalcy has no chance to resume, nor has it peaked its head out in years.

During my recent trip to Juarez, I noticed signs of a pattern similar to what I witnessed in Belfast. Older, violent generations dictate what's right. Young people have little to compare an unhealthy lifestyle to; their generational role model has tremendous power to ruin their minds and lives before they start to develop. The pattern was most visible in the city's rougher areas, where groups like the Irish Republican Army, the Ulster Defence Association and their splinter groups often held more control than local police and were considered trendsetters.

I witnessed up close how the creation of a basketball team could reverse the direction of where ten young boys' lives were headed in that city, and in one of its roughest parts. I'm sure there are millions of people who can attest to youth sports having contributed to their success and character development throughout life. The boys team that I put together and coached, and the religiously integrated teams that were assembled in the years following my time there, are just some examples of many grassroots ideas being put into action and showing positive results. The many at-risk youth who I grew to know in Belfast knew little of the fundamentals of the region's conflict, and instead held their former bigoted beliefs either because their parents did or because it classified them as "cool" or subscribing to a popular youth mentality. Universally, that's why kids join gangs: to be cool and to feel acceptance.

It is imperative the cartels in Juarez be stopped, and finding new opportunities -- what I will call "diversions" -- for youth throughout all of Juarez is a sure fire way to curb their current and future development. It does not solely have to be basketball, and it does not only have to be the nonprofit organization that I founded that is doing the work. We should support all efforts to fight violence and drugs in Mexico that are unique, innovative and put together by the people on the ground.

Discussions about what should be legal, what shouldn't and what policies should be enacted are a relative exercise in futility. Governments have been fighting this "war on drugs" for years, haven't they? And where are we now? We're at an even worse place.

Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The fact that either government is allegedly increasing its efforts in the region since the US Consulate murders doesn't guarantee that the situation will see any improvement.

Why do we so often criticize and question our governments' abilities to handle these situations, yet when they repeatedly fail we ask that they are the ones who should keep trying to fix them? Why do we continue to trust them as the ones with the right answers?
I'm curious to know what any US lawmaker really knows about bettering the lives of Mexicans. One local told me he thought it was ridiculous that Mexican President Calderon had visited Juarez -- arguably the most adversely effected city in the region -- only a few times since declaring his war on drugs.

When the murders of civilians, police and government workers aren't being solved or even pursued by authorities, what sort of trust can any Mexican have in government? Does throwing money at the situation make any difference? I doubt it. The billions of dollars we've spent on fighting the apparent war are staggering, yet violence has risen. And finally, I'd guess most Mexicans would like the US government to stay out of their business, but I could be wrong.
We need to invest in building communities by reaching out to youth before they've made the choice that some from the last generation made. Why don't we fund respected and proven NGOs and watch them carefully, guide them along and promote their results? We fund the companies on our border that build huge walls and the men down there who carry huge guns. But from here - and in Juarez - it's obvious that they're lacking positive results. Where's the accountability?

Youth in Juarez badly need a diversion. The only overpowering culture now is what we're seeing on television and reading in newspapers. Legalizing drugs wouldn't create a utopia like many insist, because it wouldn't add youth-driven opportunity where there currently is none. Youth need something to hold onto and to want, but it has to be something that teaches them respect for human life and each other, among many other things.

Projects like these work and I am dedicated to building one in Juarez. It's too bad we don't have the guts to try them on a larger scale. Instead, we choose insanity and repeat our mistakes of reliance on government interference.

Michael Evans | michaelevans@fullcourtpeace.org | www.fullcourtpeace.org
TWITTER: @sportsdiplomat | @fullcourtpeace