Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — The number of murders in Ciudad Juárez has sharply declined from its peak during the drug war days, and now this border city across from El Paso is working to attract visitors once again.
"We have to keep working and working and working and bringing people into the area," said Jose Arturo Ramos Andujo, executive in charge of projects for Juárez.
He may just have one of the hardest jobs in Ciudad Juárez these days. "If things were like they were three years ago? Yeah, it would be hard," Ramos added
During a recent tour of the city, he pointed to all the new businesses as proof the city has recovered from years of drug violence.
"If you’re seeing a boom in Juárez, security is good," Ramos said.
Murders have declined sharply — from 3,075 in 2010 to 487 in 2013. Still, perceptions of the city as a dangerous place persist.
"I quit going over there five or six years ago because of all the homicides and stuff that was going on over there," said Henry Dominguez.
Texans and tourists alike used to visit Ciudad Juárez to shop, and to enjoy restaurants and bars. Others crossed the border for low-cost prescription drugs or dental work.
"I don’t think I’ll be going to Juárez anytime soon unless I’m abducted and taken over there," Dominguez said.
But others are open to the idea of returning to Ciudad Juárez.
"It’s safe... I think it’s safe," said El Paso resident Donald Jones. "A lot of people think they’re going to get hit by a stray bullet or something like that. I don’t think that’s going to happen."
"Juárez is a city right now that's very calm," said Ramos, driving along an avenue lined with small restaurants, bars and shops.
Overhead a huge billboard announced in English the opening of a new "Gastro Pub."
The city has big plans for its downtown district, which had been a major destination for visitors in past years. Ramos said the development includes "a big shopping center, stores, restaurants for the U.S., because it's on the border by the bridge."
Five major investors have expressed interest in the plan, including Carlos Slim, Latin America's wealthiest man. In the past, Slim partnered with Mexico City's government to renovate the capital's historic downtown area.
And for the first time, the City of Juárez will open a visitor center on the Texas side of the border, offering transportation back-and-forth from El Paso to Juárez.
"We have to sell the two biggest border cities in the world... that's what we have," Ramos said.
The Juárez native is convinced that after years of staying away, visitors will return and the city will once again attract tourists.
"We'll get up from the ashes, and we'll make a great city... a great city for everybody to come and visit," Ramos said.