Protecting Americans who work in JuarezPosted: Updated:
As violent crime surges, the border city known as an international manufacturing center has created a new "safety corridor" for U.S. executives and others who work in Ciudad Juarez.
Ciudad Juarez is home to 380 maquilas, factories where Mexican workers assemble products for foreign companies. Most are U.S. owned or subsidiaries.
"The maquila industry is about 60% of the economy. And we know how important it is," said Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jesus Reyes Ferris. The factories employ more than 230 thousand people in Juarez. So officials created special commuter routes leading to and from industrial parks to protect both workers and managers.
"They operate during the normal entry and exit hours of the maquila industry," explained the Mayor. "So we'll be able to make sure that all our executives in the maquila industry are safe and that nothing happens to them."
A force of 300 city, state, and federal police and soldiers will protect the corridor. Routes lead to and from international bridges traveled daily by U.S. plant managers, engineers, and suppliers.
The new strategy is an attempt to quell the growing fears of border business leaders about a spike in violent crime. There were 1600 murders in Juarez in 2008. In January of this year , the number is 153 victims, triple last January's figure. Authorities say kidnappings for ransom and robberies are also rampant.
Maquiladoras do not appear to be the main targets according to Manuel Ochoa, an expert on the industry. Ochoa works for El Paso's Economic Development Corporation. The city agency that helps U.S. companies set up operations on the border. He estimates as many as 5000 U.S. managers live in El Paso and work in Juarez plants.
Ochoa points out there are only two reported incidents involving a maquila, a payday robbery and kidnapping at Lear Jet's Juarez factory last year.
According to Mexican media reports, a band of gunmen stormed the plant and robbed employees on payday. When the masked men could not break into the automatic teller machine, they hauled it away.
In a separate incident a Mexican manager at the plant was kidnapped and later released.
The director of the Maquiladora Association in Juarez Jose Pedroza Serrano said the safety corridor is a "very good idea." He's among those who worry foreign investment could slow if security concerns and an economic crisis converge.
The Maquiladora Association's security expert Nicanor Morales, explained, "We could have a double crisis."