La extorsíon— extortion— is defined as the practice of obtaining something—especially money—through force or threats. Though it is familiar to us here, for many of the people of Ciudad Juárez, the term carries a burdensome weight— associated with memories of often terrifying and life-altering moments. Extortion has been knit into the fabric of daily life in Juárez for decades. It is intricately linked to cartel activities and in the years leading up to the drug war beginning in 2008, it was a force working in the city— impacting people at varying degrees.
With the introduction of the Sinaloa Cartel to the city in 2008, extortion was amplified by the increasing competition for drug trade. By 2010, Juárez authorities estimated that 8,000 businesses were being extorted. David Alamillo, a restauranteur and bar owner explained that people were so afraid they began to miss tax payments— electricity and water bills went unsettled in order to pay their ever-increasing extortion fees. Consequently, the people of Juarez were forced to contribute to the groups that were terrorizing their city. Many business owners fled to the United States, others stayed and their business suffered greatly— with payments reaching up to several thousand dollars a month. In 2010, the police created an anti-extortion squad to combat the cartel activities. When the squad initially greeted members of the community, inquiring about extortion, people refused to speak out because they feared the police were there to manipulate or harm them. Influential members of the community formed a safety committee, called Mesa de Seguridad, that worked alongside the police. They met in secret, in the El Paso Airport due to the extreme danger of the situation. Soon the anti-extortion activities received the anticipated backlash from the cartel. In October 2011, three officers staking out a local grocery store were gunned down and members of the community were outraged. Over time, however, the anti-extortion initiative proved more effective, and cartel extortion slowed in the community.
Today, new businesses are opening to replace some of the businesses that had been abandoned or had gone bankrupt from extortion. Though extortion is still present, slowly, the Juarenses are attempting to take back their community. The impact of such rampant extortion can be seen throughout Juárez. Many of the people have been left unable to meet their basic needs—such as providing food for their families and education for their children. Partner with us as we attempt to empower the members of this community—through the support of local food kitchens, by providing the means for children’s education, and through providing for the needs of orphanages.
We invite you to join us through prayer and/or financial support. You can also keep up with our team in Juárez through our Facebook page.