In 1848, it was provided by treaty that the Rio Grande would serve as the border between Texas and Mexico. However that river divided a city, which was discovered as long ago as 1659 by explorers seeking a way through the southern Rocky Mountains. So there developed two adjoining cities, one in Texas and one in the Chihuahua province of Mexico. The city in Texas became El Paso. The city in Mexico became Juarez, after it was eventually named in honor of the Mexican revolutionary, Benito Juarez.
I awoke one morning in a hotel in El Paso, Texas and decided to cross the border that day to take a look at Juarez. I was without a car, but the border itself and Juarez beyond it were both within walking distance of my hotel.
I stood in line at the border post. Everyone else on foot looked to be Mexican and I do not look Mexican. This was probably why a US border guard walked up to me and said to me in English “Have you heard that the President has been shot?” I assumed that he was referring to the President of Mexico and I had no idea whether any attempted assassination had proved fatal. People were still passing through the border checkpoint, so I kept walking with them over a bridge which crossed a very dried up Rio Grande. Eventually I found myself in the center of the city of Juarez. It was very picturesque with no shortage of good restaurants. There was plenty of sightseeing to do and many pretty churches to admire. Quite frankly, I had entirely forgotten about the possible assassination attempt on the President of Mexico. Yet when I attempted to return to El Paso, I found that the border had been closed. I could see El Paso in the distance topped by its forest of US flags. In every case, the stars and stripes were flying at half staff. I then realized my mistake.
The date, of course, was November 22nd 1963. Everyone remembers where they were at the time that President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. The border guard, who had spoken to me earlier, has been referring to JFK rather than to the Mexican president. Now Dallas is 650 miles away from El Paso at the other end of Texas, but that did not matter. The whole Texas/Mexico border had been sealed in both directions and I was unable to return to the USA that day. My stay in Juarez therefore became longer than planned. With some difficulty, I found a hotel room in Juarez where I remained glued to the television. Although Lee Harvey Oswald had been arrested in Dallas within a few hours of the assassination, it could not at first be determined whether or not Oswald had been acting alone. Therefore the entire Texas/Mexico border had been sealed to prevent the escape of any possible accomplices. The following day the border was re-opened and I returned to my El Paso hotel. When there, I once again remained glued to the television, on which I then witnessed the murder of Oswald by Jack Ruby.
Although I have just mentioned certain shocking acts of violence in Dallas, the times themselves were not violent. In 1963, I could safely wander across the bridge from Texas into Juarez, alone and on foot. I could then sit in a Juarez café on the sidewalk, contentedly enjoying the music of Mexico and watching the world go by. I would not be bothered by anyone. Yet, in October 2008, the US State Department had to issue an alert cautioning Americans about the dangers of traveling to Mexico. It specifically cited the situation in Juarez as being of special concern. That is because Juarez has now become the epicenter of the drug cartel wars.
Violence in Juarez has now become so widespread that innocent bystanders are becoming victims as a matter of routine. Dozens of journalists have been killed, just because they are journalists. In the past decade, hundreds of young women have been abducted and murdered in this region. While the drug cartel wars are the main reason for what is happening, the breakdown of law and order is also due to extreme poverty and to government corruption. When governments neglect their basic responsibilities and instead interfere in areas where they have no business to be, this is what happens to society on both sides of the border. Bob