While not strictly abandoned, the city of Juarez or Ciudad Juárez in Mexico has been torn apart by a brutal drug war that has raged between rival cartels. Located near the USA border and the town of El Paso in Texas, the city has been growing at an incredible rate over the past two decades however large areas of the city have been abandoned as they were too dangerous for people to live in. The Mexican government has been cracking down hard on the cartels using the military but the problem still remains.
The Franciscan Friar García de San Francisco founded Ciudad Juárez in 1659 as El Paso del Norte (The North Pass). He was looking for a route through the southern Rocky Mountains. The Franciscans established a community that grew in importance as trade between Santa Fe and Chihuahua passed through it. The first bridge across the Rio Grande was constructed in the late 18th century. The town was originally called El Paso del Norte and groups of natives populated the surrounding area. A number of missions were also built nearby and by 1750, the population had reached 5,000.
In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed which established the Rio Grande as the border between Mexico and the United States. The settlements of Ysleta, Socorro and San Elzeario were north of the river and thus became part of Texas. They grew into what is now the city of El Paso.
In 1861, Mexican President Benito Juárez imposed a two-year moratorium of loan-interest payments to French, British, and Spanish creditors. As a result, Napoleon III of France invaded Mexico with the backing of other European powers. The republican forces, led by Juárez, stopped at El Paso del Norte and formed his government-in-exile in Chihuahua. The Europeans were driven out of Mexico by 1867 and in 1888, El Paso del Norte became known as Ciudad Juárez in honour of Benito Juárez.
The Mexican Central Railway arrived in 1882 and the city grew rapidly as a result. President Porfirio Díaz introduced a free-trade policy to Mexico and the retail and service sector in Juárez benefited massively. The city became a showcase project for Díaz with beautiful parks throughout the city and modern hotels and restaurants to cater for the increased international railroad traffic.
By 1910, the city was Mexico’s biggest border town. It was of particular strategic importance during the Mexican Revolution and in May 1911, about 3,000 revolutionary fighters under the leadership of Francisco Madero laid siege to Ciudad Juárez. Capturing the key border town at such an early stage was vital for the revolution as it allowed the revolutionary forces to bring in weapons and supplies from El Paso. Over the course of the revolution, the city was the location for a number of battles and between 1914 and 1917, much of the population abandoned Ciudad Juárez.
After the Revolution ended in the early 1920s, tourism, gambling and light manufacturing drove the city’s recovery. The cathedral was built in the 1950s and efforts were made to improve and beautify the city. By 1970, the population had reached 400,000.
Since then, the city has gained a reputation as a major centre of narcotics trafficking. The powerful Juárez Cartel was founded in 1970 and was responsible for smuggling vast amounts of illegal drugs into the USA through the city. Violence also grew as a result and over the years, criminal activity in Juárez spiralled out of control. A turf war with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera’s Sinaloa Cartel in the 2000s led to countless deaths in the state of Chihuahua. In 2010, it had the highest murder rate in the world with 3,100 people killed that year.
As a result of the violence, large numbers of people began leaving Ciudad Juárez. Entire neighbourhoods were abandoned as the population fled in fear. Vast sections of society, particularly upper and middle-class residents, moved away for safety elsewhere. Homes and businesses were boarded up and left empty.
In late 2010, the Mexican army began patrolling the city in an effort to crack down on crime. Federal, state and local government joined forces to improve the city’s quality of life and by 2015, the homicide rate was 310. That’s ten times lower than it had been 5 years earlier. Some suggested it was also the result of the Sinaloa Cartel beating their rivals.
Since then, efforts have been made to reinvent the city’s image and bring people back. Some of the abandoned businesses have reopened and a campaign aimed at bringing tourists to the city has launched with the hope of attracting people from throughout Mexico and across the border and beyond.