The violence behind the stigma

Lessons from a Mexican border city

Maria Larissa Silva Santos – NUPRI Working Paper 01 – julho 2019


Ciudad Juárez, the birthplace of the maquiladora industry in the mid-1960s, won the international newspapers’ headlines since the 1990s as a spot of endemic violence in the northern Mexican border region. The territorial stigmatization of Juárez became even stronger after the unprecedented upsurge of criminality from 2008 to 2010, when it was considered twice the world’s most violent city. This violent context is often considered the result of cartels disputes and hence of the narcos (drug traffickers), responsible for degrading the city. The neoliberal politics of representation of the “undesirables”, i.e. drug dealers, sex workers, and other vulnerable groups who could be easily identified as illegitimate dwellers of a “renewed” zone, is the symbolic mainstay both of the zero-tolerance policing (ZTP) and the attempts of gentrification that have taken place in Juárez since 2011. These two urban policies are claimed by the official discourse as the main reasons for the recovering from the seemly unending cycle of violence that Juárez faced until 2010. Nevertheless, the narrative of “rescuing” the city image from the domain of narco-violence, vocalized by decision-makers and hegemonic journalism, contradictorily mobilizes different levels of violence (structural, political, symbolic, and everyday violence) in its formulation. This paper analyses how the interactions between four expressions of violence in the zero-tolerance policing and gentrification policies have violently produced a new space in Ciudad Juárez since 2011.