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Not long ago, all headlines out of Ciudad Juarez screamed bloody drug war murder. Now something unexpected is happening in the Mexican border town. Homicides have plummeted. Some who fled have returned. Sports clubs keep kids out of gangs. GlobalPost went to find out if this amazing recovery is built to last.


Gang violence abating, Juarez kids find a safer line of scrimmage

With their winning football team Jaguares, Mexico’s bad news city can’t lose.

In the ring

Julian Cardona/GlobalPost

In the roughshod Anapra neighborhood of Juarez’s western fringe, several dozen teenagers practice vicious punches at a community center thrown up amid a cluster of shanties tacked to the rocky soil an easy jog from the US border.

“Hit them hard. Be tough!” coach Ruben Ramirez yells. “It looks like your throwing flowers.”

The center is one of 49 built by city officials with federal funds since the Villas Salvarcar atrocity. Volunteers and poorly paid staffers teach neigborhood adults to read or do math, or provide job training in hair dressing, computers or massage. Youngsters, especially the boys, flock to the center’s soccer fields, basketball courts and martial arts classes.

Boxing is the rage.

“You find the talent in the poor neighborhoods,” says Ramirez, who has made several boys from Juarez into national champions. “They have a taste for combat.”

Ramirez nods toward one of the boxers, a freckle-faced 13-year-old with a quick smile, and a fierce right hook. The boy’s older brother was a hired cartel gun before being killed a few years back.

When his uncle brought him to the boxing class last summer, he warned that the boy constantly spoke of becoming an assassin as well. The kid no longer talks that way, the coach says.

But a week earlier, a teenage friend of one of the boxers was murdered in his home nearby, Ramirez says.

The terrace where the boxers practice overlooks the school where gunmen two years ago cornered and killed a 20-year-old rival who had tried to take refuge inside. Five parents waiting for their children to leave class were wounded by sprayed bullets.

“Boxing helps them leave the bad times behind. It teaches them discipline,” Ramirez says. “They learn that there are things — good things — beyond this place.

“The violence will continue,” the coach says. “We just hope to lessen it a little.”