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Authors: Ricardo C. Ainslie

The Fight to Save Juárez

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Fight to Save Juárez


By Ricardo C. Ainslie

University of Texas Press

Note: All quotations in this book are from public documents, newspapers, press conferences, personal interviews, or first-person observations. For Mexican sources, I drew most heavily from the newspapers
El Diario
(the Ciudad Juárez paper with the highest circulation),
El Norte
(Ciudad Juárez),
(Mexico City), and
El Universal
(Mexico City), and
magazine, among others.

Copyright © 2013 by the University of Texas Press

All rights reserved

Printed in the United States of America

First edition, 2013

Requests for permission to reproduce material from this work should be sent to:


University of Texas Press

P.O. Box 7819

Austin, TX 78713-7819

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Ainslie, Ricardo C.

The fight to save Juárez : life in the heart of Mexico's drug war / by Ricardo C. Ainslie. — 1st ed.

p.         cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-292-73890-4 (cloth : alk. paper)

1. Drug traffic—Mexico—Ciudad Juárez.   2. Drug control—Mexico—Ciudad Juárez.   3. Violent crime—Mexico—Ciudad Juárez.   I. Title.

HV5840.M42C5822   2013

363.450972'16—dc23                      2012035822


978-0-292-73891-1 (e-book)

978-0-292-74871-2 (individual e-book)

my wife, Daphny, who has shown me the meaning of courage




1: Christmas in Juárez

2: The Saulo Reyes Affair

3: A Meeting in Chihuahua

4: The Strategist

5: Public Relations

6: Patiño

7: La Cima

8: The Mistress

9: The General

10: Twenty-Five Hundred Soldiers

11: La Línea

12: The Human Rights Activist

13: Román

14: The Pajama Chief

15: The Journos

16: Forty-Eight Hours

17: Martial Law Undeclared

18: Civics Lessons

19: The Other War

: Addicts

21: Los NiNi

22: The Eagle's Hill

23: Villas de Salvárcar

24: All the President's Men

25: The Visit

26: Cibeles

27: No Accidents

28: The Federal Police

29: The Election


List of Interviews


no one thing that is true. They're all true

—Ernest Hemingway


I wish to thank my wife, Daphny Ainslie, for the many ways that she has supported me in this effort, from champagne upon landing key interviews, to reading drafts, to enduring my many trips to Juárez and so very much more. I also wish to thank my children, Roberto, Gabriella, and Jorge, whom I love dearly and whose love nurtures me and gives me strength.

My agent, Jim Hornfischer, has a keen eye and worked tirelessly on my behalf. My dear friend Steve Harrigan, over countless lunches, helped me find the solutions to the puzzles and challenges I encountered in writing this complex story and read the manuscript with his exquisite sensibility. I owe him a great deal for these and other acts of kindness he has shown me over the years.

John Burnett, a dear friend, National Public Radio correspondent, and fellow bandmate in WhoDo, our Austin-based “blues collective,” was extremely generous in sharing his insights as well as his contacts in Juárez and El Paso. We shared many conversations about this book and about Mexico's drug war over the course of the three years that I worked on the book. Roberto Newell, of the Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad, opened many doors for me in Mexico, helping me get interviews that would no doubt have been out of reach without his intercession. He is a lifelong friend—our parents were friends as well—and I am grateful for all he did to support this project. Another childhood friend, Gary Richmond, has been a foundation for all of my work in Mexico, always extending his friendship, advice, and hospitality during my many stays in Mexico City. My cousin Alejandro Ainslie and his wife, Monica, have given me excellent advice, suggestions on translations, insights into the Mexican political process, and bottomless support. My brother Robert Ainslie was a steady beacon throughout and has always been an enthusiastic supporter of my projects. My niece Cristina Ainslie is part of our (that is, my wife's and my) “kitchen cabinet,” and her wisdom and advice is extremely valued on many fronts. My friends Jim Magnuson, Robert Bryce, and Larry Wright have been helpful and generous with their insights. “Brother Bill” Ferris, Tom Palaima, Bryan Roberts, and John Phillip Santos wrote me letters of support that readers found sufficiently compelling to grant me
changing awards. I really appreciate the generosity of time and spirit from these friends.

I'm grateful to Jake Silverstein of
Texas Monthly
, Julián Aguilar of the
Texas Tribune
, Clay Smith of the Texas Book Festival, and Bill Booth of the
Washington Post
for their ideas, leads, and conversations about the project.

Richard Schmidt, federal judge in Corpus Christi, and Omar Zamora, a former DEA agent, helped me make important contacts related to this story. Peter Ward and Charlie Hale helped me secure an interview with Alejandro Poiré; Hugo René Oliva, deputy consul, Mexican Consulate, Austin, Texas, also played a role in this interview. Samuel Schmidt, PhD, Fundación Universidad de Guadalajara, EUA, was also generous with his views about key players in the Juárez political scene.

A very special thanks to Dave Hamrick, director of University of Texas Press, and my editor, Theresa May, both great people with a great commitment to the wonderful enterprise of the written word.

In the course of my research I have received support from many quarters, generous support that has, at times, left me breathless. The following institutions, foundations, and individuals have each played a very significant role in this effort and I thank them from the bottom of my heart: the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Residency; and at the University of Texas at Austin, the Department of Educational Psychology; Manuel Justiz, PhD, dean of the College of Education; the Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies; Ed Emmer, PhD, chair, Department of Educational Psychology (until 2011); Cindy Carlson, PhD, chair, Department of Educational Psychology; Linda Williams and Regina Smuts, administrative associates, Department of Educational Psychology; Jena Crim, executive assistant, Department of Educational Psychology; Paloma Diaz, Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies.

The following Mexican scholars have been writing about these issues for years. I was humbled to meet them, to have the benefit of reading their works, and to have the opportunity to talk with them about my work: Jorge Chabat, professor of international studies, CIDE (Center for Research and Teaching in Economics); and Luis Astorga, researcher at the Institute for Social Research, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

The following individuals were essential resources in helping me sift through the millions of words that have been written in American and, especially, Mexican newspapers, as well as in researching other aspects of the story: Molly Molloy, research librarian for Latin America and the border at New Mexico State University and creator of the Frontera List; and my doctoral students Alicia Enciso, Annie Farmer, and Luis Sandoval, who have been terrific. Finally, on several occasions Olga Valenzuela Ortiz of the Secretariat for Public Security was kind enough to take my fact-checking calls and clarify incidents, dates, and other elements.




The first time I saw José Reyes Ferriz was on March 16, 2009. The Mexican Army had just arrived in force and Reyes Ferriz, the mayor of Ciudad Juárez, was swearing in a new police chief, his third chief in less than a year. Security surrounding the event was tight and the tension in the expansive room at police headquarters palpable. The city was on the verge of anarchy. Dozens of Juárez police had been assassinated over the course of the preceding year and the force's collusion with the drug cartels was so intractable that Reyes Ferriz had found himself compelled to disband the force entirely. As I stood behind a phalanx of television cameras, photographers, and journalists, the thought occurred to me that I was watching the most beleaguered man in all of Mexico.

It would be some months later before I had the opportunity to interview Reyes Ferriz. The interview took place in his office at the Presidencia Municipal, the Juárez city hall. That day the offices of the mayor's communications director, Sergio Belmonte, were chock-full of journalists from all over the world waiting in queue to speak to the mayor. When it was my turn, I was escorted past armed guards and into an ample office on the second floor. The interview covered the typical topics: his understanding of the origins of the drug war in Juárez, the impact of the Mexican military patrolling the streets of the city, his aims for rebuilding the fractured police force. I had the impression that this was well-traveled terrain for the mayor, but for me it was a useful overview for understanding how the city's leadership was engaging the present crisis.

On prior visits I'd had the opportunity to observe the mayor being interviewed by others in impromptu encounters at public events. That day in March 2009, when the mayor had sworn in the new police chief, stood out. The director of a German documentary film crew had slammed Reyes Ferriz hard about the fact that the Juárez municipal police was rife with corruption and challenged the legality of using the military to intervene in the city. The interviewer was accusatory, hostile, and confrontational. While that wasn't my style by temperament, or perhaps by profession (as a psychologist-psychoanalyst my reflexive instinct is to find an empathic engagement with
subject, whether or not I agree with their actions or worldview), I also had the feeling that it wasn't good journalism; the assumptions at work were too evident and facile. There was something else, as well. My gut instinct about Reyes Ferriz, as I observed him at these public events, was that this man was not the evil, corrupt politician that I, too, had expected. Quite to my surprise, I found that I liked the man.

By the time of that first interview in the summer of 2009, Reyes Ferriz had already been the object of numerous death threats. As events unfolded in the city, the cartels periodically threatened to kill the mayor and to behead him and his family. The heavily armed bodyguards that accompanied Reyes Ferriz's every move were ample evidence that the threats were taken seriously: Juárez was a city where officials were being executed routinely.

An exchange occurred during my interview with the mayor that opened the door to an opportunity to understand what was taking place in Juárez through his eyes. It came toward the end of the conversation, when I asked him about the death threats against him. He was circumspect about them, but I pressed the point, saying, “I imagine that there must be moments when you must feel terribly afraid.” The mayor played it off as just a part of his job, although he acknowledged that he'd moved his family across the river to El Paso for security reasons. My impression was that there was something in that interaction, in that gesture toward his humanity, that seemed to have caught him by surprise. Whatever it was, it went unspoken, but I was granted a second interview upon my next visit to Juárez. Subsequently, I took advantage of every opportunity to interview the mayor or to observe functions at which he was presiding—press conferences, public ceremonies, speeches, and the like. It was in this way that José Reyes Ferriz gradually emerged as the central character of this book.

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