By OLIVIA TORRES and LAUREN VILLAGRAN Associated Press
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — A highly touted project to bring a little peace back to this violence-wracked border city with "safe corridors" along main streets has largely collapsed with a change in policing, residents and officials said.
Crime initially plummeted along the two boulevards in Ciudad Juarez after federal troops began intensive patrols there in February 2010 as part of the "We are All Juarez" program, aimed at improving living conditions in what has become one of the world's most murderous cities.
But federal police handed the duty off to state police, which in November turned the job over to the city. Residents say patrols have almost vanished. Shootouts, killings and kidnappings have returned.
"Crime is up fivefold in those zones," said Gustavo de la Rosa, head of the Ciudad Juarez office of Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights, on Saturday. "We are, for the moment, abandoned."
The "safe corridor" designation — along the boulevards Gomez Morin and Tomas Fernandez — was meant to revive business in these important commercial zones lined with local businesses, nightclubs and chains including Starbucks and Chili's.
On Friday, a professor of anthropology at Northern Arizona University was briefly kidnapped along one of the corridors, Gomez Morin, and was forced to withdraw money from automatic teller machines. A man was shot do death in his car the same day. Witnesses told local reporters police were slow to appear.
City police spokesman Adrian Sanchez confirmed that the municipal force has taken charge of the corridors but said it is not providing any special protection for the area beyond visiting businesses.
"They keep calling it a safe corridor but we have no idea how that works," said Jove Garcia, who oversees a student orchestra that meets along one of the corridors.
The safe routes were part of the federal plan announced by President Felipe Calderon to attack crime with better security, health, education and economic conditions in the city of 1.3 million across the border from El Paso, Texas.
The federal government's website about the project lists the safety corridors on a checklist of promises fulfilled.
However, only three of the nine planned routes were ever established and residents say that two have been all but abandoned by police. The third zone includes the attorney general's office and is still protected by federal police.
Dozens of businesses were shuttered last year along the supposedly safe corridor due to extortion, insecurity and the resulting lack of business, according to a local business group, the Coordinating Council of Businesses.
"Here it was like the road to hell, with shootouts, chases, executions and extortions," said the manager of an upscale restaurant on Gomez Morin, who asked not to be named for fear he would be targeted by gangsters. "Things calmed down with the patrols, and now we're starting again" with the violence.
In violence elsewhere in the country, seven young men were shot dead Saturday at a house party in Chihuahua City, the capital of Chihuahua state about three hours south of Ciudad Juarez, according to the attorney general's office.
In Guerrero in southern Mexico, authorities reported on Sunday that 11 people were killed, including a family of three in their Acapulco home.