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Juarez shedding violent image, statistics show

By Nick Valencia and Arturo Chacon, CNN
January 5, 2013 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
Thousands of guns lie on the ground before their destruction in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in February.
Thousands of guns lie on the ground before their destruction in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in February.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Violence in Juarez has dropped from its peak in 2010
  • Juarez was known as the deadliest city in the world
  • Authorities don't credit one single tactic for the reduction in violence
  • There are still an average of two killings a day in Juarez

(CNN) -- Once known as the deadliest city in the world, the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez deserves a new nickname.

The city -- infamous for tales of unsolved murders and gangland shootings -- recorded 750 homicides in 2012, a significant drop from the previous year when 2,086 people were killed.

Statistics from the Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office show that Juarez ended 2012 with the fewest killings the city has seen since drug-related violence encapsulated it five years ago.

Opinions differ on why the homicide rate has dropped so quickly, but one thing is clear: Juarez is now a city where residents feel safe enough to walk the streets and go out with a relative sense of safety.

"There is no superman, or one person that did all the changes," said Arturo Valenzuela, president of the bureau of public safety in Juarez. "It was a multifunctional process."

Between 2007 and 2011 more than 9,000 people were killed, with the peak coming in 2010, when Juarez saw a record 3,116 homicides, or about 8 murders per day, according to figures released by the attorney general's office.

No single factor is responsible for restoring relative tranquility, but a key factor was that for the first time there was a team effort and coordination between local police and civil society organizations, Valenzuela said.

"The players [that helped bring down the violence] have also been leaders of the local police and the politicians," he said, referring to new government administrations that came to power during this period. In 2010 Mayor Hector "Teto" Murguia took the reins from Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz, and the state of Chihuahua also got a new governor.

The withdrawal of federal agents -- often accused of corruption -- in 2011 also brought relative calm to Juarez, Valenzuela said. At the same time, the municipal police received better equipment and salaries under new Police Chief Julian Leyzaola.

The drop in violence is reflected in the city's economic growth, Murguia said.

At least three new high schools and sports facilities opened in 2012, and hundreds of businesses -- including restaurants, nightclubs and grocery stores -- reopened throughout the city, Murguia said.

The growth was supplemented by funds earmarked by the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon, he said.

Murguia credits law enforcement, security specialists and "no one else" for the changes in Juarez.

But the sentiment among many Juarez residents is more cynical. They say that the bloody turf war between the Sinaloa cartel and the Juarez cartel that was responsible for the carnage has been won by the Sinaloans, led by the world's most wanted drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Chihuahua state prosecutor Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas disputed that view, saying that the most important factor in 2012 was the arrests of the heads of local criminal groups, including "El Diego," the head of La Linea, the armed wing of the Juarez cartel.

Since October 2010, there were at least 4,000 arrests, including the detention of 250 kidnappers and 200 extortionists, as well as the seizure of 2,500 guns, Gonzalez said.

The strides made to improve security in Juarez are noticeable, but the city's homicide rate is still twice as much as it was five years ago. In 2007, there was an average of about 0.82 murders per day. In 2012, there were two murders per day, according to the attorney general's office.

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