Mexico's Commerce Crawls Back from Drug War's Chaos

USA Today -- Héctor Murguía is wearing a satisfied smile that has nothing to do with the steaming cup of soup sitting before him or the comfortable office that he occupies as this city's chief executive.

Just hours before, the mayor's reinvigorated police force notched another important victory in the long, bloody campaign to restore order to what had become one of the most violent places on the face of the globe.

Jesus Rodrigo Fierro-Ramirez, a former Mexican state policeman-turned-brutal enforcer for the Sinaloa drug cartel, was killed in a nighttime raid of a cartel safe-house on the outskirts of town. Ramirez, the mayor said, was armed with grenades and a cache of high-powered rifles similar to those responsible for so many of the 10,000 deaths here in just the past four years — all casualties of a drug war that pushed this once-bustling border city to the brink of ruin.

"This was a city of ghosts," Murguía said last week, motioning to a remarkable scene two floors below where streams of pedestrians and heavy commuter traffic have replaced Mexican soldiers and armored military vehicles that helped enforce marshal law on this bleak landscape just 18 months ago.

"Now, it is a completely different city."

Indeed, what has happened in Ciudad Juárez, or Juárez as it is commonly called, and Tijuana to the west — two flash points in the long siege of border violence in Mexico — is offering a glimmer of hope for a vast region that many had left for dead like so many thousands of Mexican murder victims.

Since 2011, the University of San Diego's Trans-Border Institute has tracked a "notable and important" leveling in the grinding cycle of killing throughout Mexico. In a study of homicides provided to USA TODAY, institute researchers found that organized-crime-related murder dropped 21% in 2012 — the first time those numbers fell since the drug wars escalated in 2007. That trend was especially pronounced in Mexico's six border states, which saw a 32% drop in organized-crime killings. (Full Story