EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Days after widespread attacks on civilians claimed 11 lives in their city, Juarez officials are inviting Americans to attend concerts and a street fest to honor a Mexican music legend.
The “Juangabrielisimo” festival celebrating the late singer Juan Gabriel kicks off with a parade at 10 a.m. Sunday along Avenida Heroico Colegio Militar in Juarez. It includes concerts the following week at Plaza de la Mexicanidad – the big red “X” – the Old Customs building Downtown and Juarez Avenue south of the Paso del Norte U.S. port of entry. Charter buses on South Santa Fe Street will take El Pasoans to Thursday night’s Aida Cuevas concert and bring them back for $15.
At a news conference Tuesday at the Mexican consulate in El Paso, Juarez officials emphasized how people on both sides of the border love Juan Gabriel’s music, and how they’re going out of their way to ensure visitors are safe during events coinciding with the sixth anniversary of the singer’s death.
“I want to reassure our brothers in El Paso, Las Cruces and New Mexico that they should not worry about attending these events because your safety is completely guaranteed,” said Ivan Perez Ruiz, Juarez’s director of economic development. “Unfortunately, because of some situations, Juarez has again found itself in a very complicated situation. But these are isolated events.”
The ”isolated events” of last Thursday began with a fight between two gangs inside a Juarez prison and spread to the streets of Juarez. Patrons were shot dead at convenience stores and on city streets; four members of a radio crew broadcasting from a pizza shop were slain as well.
Police arrested nearly a dozen people, including some at a home with a shrine to “La Santa Muerte,” the personification of death often worshiped by drug traffickers.
The violence extracted a heavy toll on the city’s economy. A survey by the Juarez Chamber of Industry found that nine out of 10 businesses in the city either shut down for at least one day after Thursday’s attacks or lost revenue. Some businesses remained closed the entire weekend out of fear.
Pressed by Border Report about how they intend to keep visitors safe at the festival from further drug violence, visiting Mexican officials said they will keep a heavy uniformed police presence at the events, monitor nearby streets through closed circuit cameras and park squad cars on nearby access roads.
Felipe Rojas, the curator of the Juan Gabriel House where the singer used to live and where his cremated ashes are kept, said border residents are ready to move on and enjoy the weeklong musical tribute in Juarez.
“Juan Gabriel left a great legacy and he lives on in every song he left. His songs make us feel proud of our city, of our people,” Rojas said. “ He distinguished himself by being a different kind of artist, and our people, our border are also different.”
Juarez Tourism Director Jacqueline Armendariz acknowledged that drug violence tarnishes the city’s image but rarely affects visitors.
“We are working very hard to promote Juarez as a safe destination. We want to bring back the days when many visitors could be seen walking our streets, shopping at the market, having a good time,” Armendariz said. “But with these types of events, it seems we take three steps back after taking two steps forward. Still, we’re not giving up. We’re inviting people to come and the (Juan Gabriel festival) is the perfect opportunity to do so.”