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A grim, brief future for residents of Juárez

This is not the first time I've written about the violence in Mexico. Frankly, it's unfortunate to have to revisit the topic, but some of the latest information I have read has left me flabbergasted.

Although the Mexican government prefers to play it down, the violence -- especially that which relates to drug trafficking -- is out of control. And the ones paying the highest price are the Mexican youth.

Reporter Claudia Solera tells the harrowing tale, in an article published in El Heraldo newspaper, of how violence has robbed Mexican youth of their dreams. In 2008, 5,069 young people between the ages of 15 and 29 were killed nationwide, according to a report by Mexico's National Institute of Statistics and Geography. Homicide is now the second leading cause of death among the young.

Nowhere is it more prevalent than in the border cities of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua and Tijuana. In that year, 1,094 young people were assassinated, the majority in Juárez. In a 10-year period, the homicide rate among the youth in Juárez went up sixfold.

"I don't want to sound like a fatalist, but young people don't think of tomorrow, especially if we happen to be born in Juárez," said Chave, a 20-year-old interviewed by the journalist. "I want to live," he went on to say, "but I know that sooner or later, even though I am no involved in anything -- irregular -- I know something will happen to me."

This is the environment in which people are living these days, where it's no longer rare to find a dead body on any corner on any given day.

Mexico's Citizen Security Council reports that Juárez is the most dangerous city in the world. There are 191 deaths per 100,000 residents, while in Norway, the most peaceful country, there are 0.9 homicides per 100,000.

The El Heraldo article paints a grim picture of life in Juárez for young people. There are no outlets for youth to develop, making them more vulnerable to becoming victims of the wave of violence that has infested their city. No cultural outlets, no sports outlets, no educational opportunities.

Some young people complain that for decades, they have been treated like potential criminals. Youth programs are under the auspices of the Public Security Forces. Cultural activities for the young also are administered by police.

In a city of 1.3 million inhabitants, there are three museums and three theaters. Even worse, there are not enough schools. In the impoverished western part of the city, there are only two high schools for 700,000 residents.

Six out of 10 young people in Juárez between the ages of 12 and 17 neither study nor work. In that situation, it is easier for a teenager to succumb to drugs. The temptation of being offered money, cell phones, cars and other things they could not dream of acquiring on their own makes them easy prey for organized crime.

Sociologist Teresa Almada says people in Juárez are more concerned with protecting themselves from the violence than with thinking about the future. Sixty percent of the victims in that city, she claims, are young people who lack opportunities.

The dropout rate is directly linked to the high levels of homicide. A United Nations study on criminal activity in Latin America claims that if kids stayed in school one more year, the homicide rate would be reduced by 30 percent. The U.N. study states that a dropout's life expectancy is 9.2 years less than that of one who graduates from at least high school.

The unfortunate reality of Juárez is reflected in the local cemetery. For every three elderly people who die of old age, one young person is buried for homicide. And as Solera points out, next to the tombstones of the latest young victims of crime are rows of open graves with dirt piled up next to them, ready for the next victim to arrive. A wasted life, a grim outlook for Mexico's future.

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