Study Border Dynamics in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua, Mexico

Mexico Solidarity Network
Summer 2010 Study Abroad Program
June 13 – July 2: Border Dynamics (Spanish immersion course)

June 13 – 26: Ciudad Juarez, students overnight in El Paso and spend most days in Ciudad Juarez
June 26 – July 2: Chihuahua City, students live in middle class homes

Note: The political and military situation in Juarez is changing constantly and the MSN staff is following these dynamics, as well as their implications for student safety.  At the moment we have every intention of carrying out the summer program in Juarez, but this could change.  A final determination will be made by mid-May.  Should the program be cancelled, applicants will receive a 100% refund on all payments made, including the $25 application fee.

Ciudad Juarez is, in many ways, the centerpiece of neoliberalism.  This border city is home to hundreds of maquiladoras, with more than a third of the working population employed in the maquiladora sector.  About two-thirds of maquiladora line workers are women.  Juarez is also a center of binational migration.  Almost three-quarters of the Juarez population are migrants, many staying only temporarily as they wait for the opportunity to cross into the US.

Chihuahua City is, in many ways, similar to Juarez, though maquiladoras play second fiddle to government employment.  The capital of Chihuahua state is historically a place where the interests of large ranch owners and conservative politicians dominate.

Currently Ciudad Juarez is under a virtual state of siege, due in part to three narcotics cartels that are battling for control of lucrative turf and transshipment routes to the US black market.  In March of 2009, President Felipe Calderon sent 5,000 army troops and 1,000 Federal Preventative Police, in addition to the 2,000 troops already present in the city, in an effort to quell narco-violence.  In 2009 the city set a new record for murders (2500), with almost all of the deaths resulting from cartels fighting other cartels, or cartels battling the army or police.  In addition, Juarez faces an economic crisis, especially in the automotive industry which provides the best paying jobs in the maquiladora sector.  Unemployment and factory closings or “production breaks” are leaving tens of thousands of workers in search of income.  Chihuahua City reflects the crisis in Juarez, with unemployment and bank foreclosures dominating the economic news.

These are the conditions prevalent in two cities built around low-paid labor, the export sector and neoliberal economic schemes.  Women have been particularly impacted by the cultural and security dynamics, including the “doble jornada,” the rash of femicide victims, the maquiladora workforce, and gendered poverty.  This special study abroad program will look at Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City culture, current political dynamics, and the impact of recent security measures.  Third world feminism offers a guiding perspective throughout the course.

Why Ciudad Juarez?
Given the current security situation in Ciudad Juarez, why is the Mexico Solidarity Network offering a study abroad experience?  There has been a great deal of publicity around increasing violence in Ciudad Juarez.  The US State Department issued a Travel Advisory in late February 2009, directed particularly at Spring Break students and the border cities of Tijuana, Reynosa and Ciudad Juarez.  Another Travel Advistory was issued in March 2010 after two people employed by the US consulate in Juarez and their spouses were killed.

At the same time, something very important, even historic, is currently unfolding in Juarez.  The entire neoliberal model is very much in question in the context of the world economic crisis, and Ciudad Juarez is at the epicenter of neoliberalism.  The Mexico Solidarity Network is interested in the unfolding events in Juarez for their academic value and social impact, and also because we have many friends and allies there who are more than ever in need of international observers and knowledge production on the current situation.

Felipe Calderon unleashed a “war on drugs” in his first act as President in December, 2006.  His approach so far has been to attack drug transportation networks, rather than a potentially much more effective strategy concentrating on money-laundering and cartel-owned businesses.  In addition, at least eight high-ranking federal officials have been arrested or are under investigation for links to the cartels.  This calls into question the administration’s commitment to the war on drugs, and the President’s ability to look beyond brute law enforcement measures to more long term social/economic programs to deal with the current situation.  In addition, there are indications the Calderon administration, along with army units, federal police and newly hired local police, are favoring the Sinaloa Cartel in the battle with the traditionally powerful Juarez Cartel for control of the border’s lucrative transshipment points.  Whatever the shortfalls of a purely military strategy, Ciudad Juarez is currently the proving grounds for Calderon’s initiative, and may well be the acid test for his entire administration.  It is important that academics study the current situation and offer informed reports and opinions.  

Within hours of the arrival of new army troops in March 2009, murders and violence decreased dramatically in Juarez.  Just about everyone expected this, accompanied by the “cucaracha (cockroach) effect,” in which warring cartels move their struggles to surrounding population centers or other parts of Mexico while the troops remain in Juarez.  However, in recent months, violence has returned to pre-troop levels.  Most Juarez residents who initially favored the presence of troops are now increasingly opposed, in large part because corrupted troops are reportedly responsible for many of the demands for “insurance payments” that plague local businesses.  And no one expected the army to resolve the city’s other pressing problems, including unemployment, precarious and low-paying jobs in the maquiladora sector, political corruption, and massive immigration.  Juarez is a neoliberal experiment, and the academic community has an obligation to offer informed opinions on how to resolve the current social problems.  

The Mexico Solidarity Network has long-standing relationships with community based organizations in Juarez.  Our full time staff person there is a native of the city and understands the situation well.  Our program is planned around day time visits in the downtown area and in neighborhoods that have not experienced the kinds of drug-related violence that plague other parts of the city.  When thinking about safety in Ciudad Juarez, think in terms of major metropolitan areas in the US such as Detroit, East St. Louis, New York City or Chicago.  There are parts of each of these cities where the murder rate is nearly as high as Ciudad Juarez, and university students would be well advised to avoid those areas.  This does not mean that the entire city is dangerous.  An experienced local guide would be able to tell students where to go and what to avoid.  This is our approach to Ciudad Juarez.  

In our estimation, the US State Department Travel Advisory is a legitimate document directed especially at visitors to Juarez who do not understand the current situation and who can easily wander into dangerous sections of the city without realizing the risks.  Our students do not fit into this category of traveler.  

Our program takes student safety very seriously.  Our program runs in Juarez only during the daytime, with students overnighting in El Paso.  Students are prohibited from entering establishments that serve alcohol.  We provide a full program of research and learning that carefully avoids areas that have been hard hit by cartel violence.  We are convinced that with these security measures, in combination with restrictions on the type of students we will accept in the program, Juarez is currently not any riskier than it has been over the past ten years for our students.  In part, we take our guidance in these matters from the actions of the US Consulate, which continues to process visas and residency permits for thousands of people every day in Ciudad Juarez.  We can certainly understand the Consulate’s Travel Advisory, and we would never recommend that visitors unfamiliar with the city visit without local guidance and a well-conceived program.  We offer both.  We’ve been organizing delegations to Juarez since 1999 and student trips since 2005, and we are pleased to report that there have been no serious injuries, assaults or deaths involving our program participants during that time.  We can never offer a guarantee of safety in any travel situation, and we encourage students to carefully consider the security risks before joining this program.  We also think that something very important is currently unfolding in Juarez.  Students can learn a great deal from this study abroad experience, and the people of Juarez will benefit from the reports produced by the students.

Given the current security situation in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua City, this special study abroad program is open only to students who are fluent or nearly fluent in Spanish, students who are over 21 years old, students who have the approval of their parents or guardians, and students who are able to participate fully in a disciplined program with security restrictions that will not permit free travel throughout the city.  The Mexico Solidarity Network will conduct interviews with prospective students and will provide pre-trip telephone briefings for parents or guardians.

The program is accredited by the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana in Mexico City at the undergraduate and masters level.
Program fees:
Your program fee of $1,900 covers tuition for up to 4 semester credits, food, lodging, ground transportation, and most books.  

Program overview:
The Border Dynamics Study Abroad Program is an inter-disciplinary, integrated course that covers the history, border culture, security dynamics and popular responses to the most important bilateral issues confronting the US-Mexico border region.  We employ a learning pedagogy that combines theoretical/historical class work with real life experiences in a dynamic, student-centered program.  Third world feminism offers a guiding perspective throughout the course.  The program includes:
-    Three weekly seminars that address the historical and theoretical foundations of border dynamics, including immigration, maquiladoras, free trade, narco-trafficking, femicides and human rights.  Seminars are organized around 100 to 200 pages of reading each week that draw on sociological, anthropological, economic, historic and political texts.
-    Students write a weekly reflection to prepare for the seminar discussions.  Reflections include a critical discussion with the authors and questions that arise from the readings.
-    Two to three workshops each week focus on topics related to the seminars.  The workshops place students in direct contact with border politicians, social movement leaders, and visiting academics.
-    In Chihuahua City, students live with members of popular social movements that are active along the border.  This offers daily interaction in Spanish with organizers and social actors, and an unparalleled access to first-hand knowledge and experience.
-    Students produce a final project at the end of the semester focused on integrating the knowledge and experiences gained from the program into the daily lives of students when they return to the US.  The final project involves a ten-minute verbal presentation followed by a seminar-style discussion.

Border Dynamics (Soc 365/565) 2 credits/30 hours:  Covers the most important social issues along the US-Mexico border, including maquiladoras, immigration, drug trafficking, and femicides, plus social and political dynamics in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua City.  Third world feminism is used a guiding perspective throughout the course.

US-Mexico Border Politics (Pol sci 366/566) 2 credits/30 hours: Covers political responses to the most important current topics in US-Mexico border dynamics, including security initiatives, immigration debates, NAFTA, human rights, current economic debates, and other bilateral topics on the political agenda at the time of the program.  The course also covers a brief history of the US-Mexico border.

Veronica Leyva is a lifelong resident of Ciudad Juárez.  Veronica worked in maquiladoras for seven years before beginning a career as a labor organizer at the age of 24.  She is the Mexico Solidarity Network staff person and Study Abroad coordinator in Ciudad Juárez.

Prof. Felix Perez, Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, Ciudad Juárez

Dra. Leticia Castillo, Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez

Veronica Corchado, youth organizer in Ciudad Juárez

And other visiting professors from the Colegio de la Frontera and the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez.

Social movements:
-    Nuestras Hijas Regresan a Casa, Ciudad Juárez
-    Centro de Estudios y Taller Laboral A.C. (CETLAC), Ciudad Juárez
-    Colonos de Lomas de Poleo, Ciudad Juárez
-    Alianza para el Desarrollo Alternativa (ALDEA), Ciudad Juárez

Program and Bibliography

Week 1: History and current dynamics of Ciudad Juárez

Monday, June 15
AM: Tour Ciudad Juárez, Visit San Agustin Museum
PM: Workshop with CETLAC on labor conditions in Ciudad Juárez

Tuesday, June 16
AM: Political culture of Ciudad Juárez
PM: Visit with local politicians

Wednesday, June 17
AM: Impacts of neoliberalism in Ciudad Juárez
PM: Visit industrial park

Thursday, June 18
AM: Popular responses to neoliberalism
PM: Workshop with ALDEA, a barrio organization dedicated to alternatives to maquiladora employment

Friday, June 19
AM: Evaluation, emotional check-in and open discussion of the week’s events
PM: Workshop on migration dynamics with visit to immigration center

Most of the weekend is spent in El Paso.
Optional day of volunteer work with ALDEA.


Gonzalez de la Vara, Martin, 2002, Breve historia de Ciudad Juárez y su region, Colegio de la Frontera.

Palomar Verez, Cristina, 2000, “El juego de las identidades: género, comunidad y nación,” La Ventana, num. 12, p. 7-42.

Durand, Jorge and Douglas Massey, 2003, Clandestinos: Migración México Estados Unidos en los Albores del Siglo XXI, Universidad Autonoma de Zacatecas, Chapter 2.

Arango, Joaquín, 2003, “La explicación teórica de las migraciones: luz y sombra,” Migracion y Desarrollo, Vol. 1, Octubre, p. 1-30.

Alarcón, Rafael, 2006, “Hacia la construcción de una política de emigración en México,” in Carlos Gonzáles Gutiérrez, Coord, Relaciones Estado – diáspora: aproximaciones desde cuatro continents, México: Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores y Miguel Angel Porrúa, p. 157-179.

Week 2: Cultural context of Ciudad Juárez, maquiladoras, and narco-trafficking

Monday, June 22
AM: Workshop on “day in the life of a maquildora worker”
PM: Workshop on Calderon’s war on drugs

Tuesday, June 23
AM: Youth culture and organizing in Ciudad Juárez
PM: Visit a community youth program

Wednesday, June 24
AM: Femicides of Ciudad Juárez
PM: Workshop with Nuestras Hijas Regresan a Casa

Thursday, June 25
AM: Gender and class dynamics in Ciudad Juárez
PM: Workshop with Colonos de Lomas de Poleo

Friday, June 26
AM: Evaluation, emotional check-in and open discussion of the week’s events
PM: Workshop on narco-trafficking and its cultural manifestations

Saturday departure from El Paso for Chihuahua City


Carlsen, Laura, 2007, “¿Guerra contra el narcotráfico o la militarización de México?” Esta Semana en las Américas, Center for International Policy: Washington, DC, July 11.

Moloeznik Gruer, Marcos Pablo, 2007, “Militarización de la seguridad pública, autonomía de las fuerzas armadas e imperativo de la reforma militar en México,” El Cotidiano, vol. 22, num. 146, p. 99-107.

Bendesky, León, Enrique de la Garza, Javier Melgoza and Carlos Salas, 2004, “La industria maquiladora de exportación: mitos, realidades y crisis,” Colegio de México,  Estudios Sociológicos XXII, Vol. 65, p. 283-314.

Márquez Covarrubias, Humberto, Raúl Delgado Wise and Óscar Pérez Veyna, 2006,  “Precarización de la fuerza de trabajo mexicana bajo el proceso de reestructuración productiva estadounidense,” Revista THEOMAI, num. 14, p. 92-109.

Quintero Ramírez, Cirila, 2001, “Experiencias organizativas en la industria maquiladora de México,” Revista Nueva Antropología, Vol. XVIII, Num 059, p. 75-91.

Week 3: Chihuahua City, femicides and Final project

Monday, June 29
AM: History of Chihuahua City
PM: Visit to city center

Tuesday, June 30
AM: Workshop on femicides
PM: Visit with Justicia para Nuestras Hijas

Wednesday, July 1
AM: Workshop on local political dynamics
PM: Visit with State politicians

Thursday, July 2
AM: Presentation of final projects
PM: US-Mexico cross-border alliances: what can we do?

Friday, July 3
AM: Final evaluation, emotional check-in and plans for future work
PM: Return to El Paso


Fox, Jonathan, 2001, “Evaluacion de las coaliciones binacionales de la sociedad civil a partir de la experiencia Mexico- Estados Unidos,” Revista Mexicana de Sociología, Vol. 63, No. 3 (Jul. - Sep., 2001), pp. 211-268

Peréz, Martha Estela and Héctor Padilla, 2002, “Interpretaciones locales sobre la violencia en contra de las mujeres en Ciudad Juárez,” La Ventana, Num 15, p. 195-230.

Ravelo Blancas, Patricia and Sergio Sánchez Díaz, 2006, “Resistencia individual y colectivo ante la violencia de genero: la experiencia de las obreras de las maquiladoras de Ciudad Juárez,” La Ventana, Universidad de Guadalajara, num. 024, p. 380-404.


Saturday, July 3
Students depart from El Paso