Rafael García runs Agavero's, a Mexican restaurant in El Paso, Texas. He used to own a company just over the U.S.-Mexico border in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, that injection molded parts for vacuum cleaners until he was kidnap-ped by criminals.
After being released, García fled to Texas and opened the restaurant. I've lived all my life in Juarez, he said by telephone. But I haven't been back for three months.
Through Nov. 12, the Associated Press counted 1,986 homicides in Juarez during 2009 mostly related to violence between rival drug cartels. In 2008 there were 1,600 murders.
Some business people on the U.S. side of the border are so fearful of running afoul of Juarez's criminals that they make excuses for not visiting the city of 1.5 million, even when requested to do so by clients.
We have customers who ask us to visit them, and we make plans to work around it, said Joe Gardea, head of sales and purchasing for Border Hose & Supply Co. Inc. in El Paso, which sells PVC hoses and tubing.
The violence in Mexico, he said, has taken its toll on our business. Everybody on both sides of the border is hurting.
The plastics industry plays an important part in the Juarez economy.
According to Enrique Miramontes who represents Baltimore-based equipment supplier Novatec Inc. in Juarez, western Texas and New Mexico Juarez has about 90 injection molders, 15 extruders and 1-2 blow molders. It is a major maquiladora hub for U.S. automotive industry suppliers and home-appliance manufacturers.
In a message posted recently on the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corporation's Web site, Bob Cook, the group's chairman, wrote: At present, there are upwards of 360 [manufacturing] operations in Juarez, about 85 percent of which are owned by U.S. corporations, employing more than 220,000 people.
There has been much written about the 1,600 homicides that occurred [in 2008] in [Juarez], Cook continued, More than 98 percent of these homicides were perpetrated against drug cartel members, police and [soldiers].
The vast majority of violent crime has been in specific geographic areas of Juarez most of it well away from our modern industrial parks, where more than 80 percent of the expatriate manufacturing and distribution business is conducted.
In spite of the spike in violent activity, we continue to see economic growth in our region, Cook said.
Miramontes said criminal activity has had far less of an effect on the local plastics industry in Juarez than the global economic downturn.
In the first few months of the year, manufacturing in the city dropped to below 30 percent of capacity, he said: Now it's back up to 75 percent. The violence is not a big factor.
Hector NuÃ±ez, owner of injection molder Injectoplastics SA de CV in Juarez, said there are fewer clients, less work and fewer opportunities in the city. But he blamed violence for a fraction of the downturn.
Companies take precautions against crime, he said, and people continue to work: When work is over for the day, people go out less in the afternoons and evenings, but as far as work is concerned, we've not had any problems.
NuÃ±ez wants tougher action by Mexican authorities against the drug cartels, a sentiment echoed by other Juarez business leaders.
In mid-November, some of them said they would ask the federal government in Mexico City and the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in Washington to petition the United Nations for peacekeeping troops. Juarez already is patrolled by 5,000 Mexican troops.
Celarent Sanchez, Injectoplastics' plant manager, said despite the violence, Juarez continues to be very important for North American manufacturers because of its geographical location.
The automotive industry has been reactivated and we're beginning to get a lot of work again from that sector, he said, adding that the global recession persuaded many companies to turn their attention away from manufacturing in China to making things in Mexico.
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