Saturday, November 26, 2011

A "green zone" for firms in Ciudad Juárez

Business on the bloody border

Desperate measures to keep businesses alive in the world’s most dangerous city

For some reason, shoppers shun Juárez

A STEEL fence is all that separates El Paso, in west Texas, from Ciudad Juárez, in northern Mexico, and it has never stopped business flowing across the border. Drinks, dentistry and divorces have been served up to bargain-seeking gringos for decades. But since fighting erupted among local drug-traffickers in 2007, Juárez has seen more violence than anywhere on Earth, battlefields aside. The murder rate last year was over 200 per 100,000 people, more than ten times the national average and 200 times the rate in El Paso. In a once-busy tourist area close to the border, well over half the shops are boarded up.

Visitors “think Mexico is a country at war,” says one dentist with a practice close to the frontier. Since the violence ratcheted up, three-quarters of his mainly American patients have decided that crossing the border for half-price drilling is not worth the risk. It does not help that since September 11th 2001 crossing the border can take up to two hours, rather than a few minutes. Most gringo-oriented businesses have struggled: a few blocks away Club 21, a betting shop, has closed, as has the Montana restaurant, which once served toothsome steaks. A hotel lies half-built; the rumour is that its backer was a drug lord who was killed earlier this year.

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