Ciudad Juarez: Mexico's 'deadliest city' sees economic gains

Women on sewing machines in factory in Ciudad Juarez Work is booming at this factory in Ciudad Juarez

BBC reporter Ian Sherwood has travelled to Ciudad Juarez, on the Mexico-US border, several times. As Mexicans prepare to elect a new president on Sunday, he returns to see how the city, which has been the scene of brutal drug gang killings, is faring.

Ciudad Juarez has had many labels in recent years. One that stuck firmly was given at the height of Mexico's crackdown on drug gangs: the world's deadliest city.

But things have changed here.

This was my fifth trip to Juarez over the past three years, my first being in March 2009 with colleague Matthew Price as the violence escalated.

President Felipe Calderon had deployed 5,000 troops to the streets of the city in an attempt to bring matters under control. Even with the army patrolling, the bodies piled up on the streets.

When we went out on night patrol with the Juarez police in November 2009, we saw the shocking violence first hand. In one evening, 15 people lost their lives.

One of the victims was seven-year-old Jaciel Ramirez, gunned down after cartel members opened fire on his father's car.

Jaciel was just one of more than 8,000 men, women, and children who have been killed in drug-related violence in Ciudad Juarez since President Calderon declared war on the cartels after being elected in 2006.

The BBC's Steve Kingstone looks at the impact of the drugs war in Juarez

On Sunday, Mexicans will elect a new president; all the candidates have vowed to make reducing the violence a priority, although they offer differing approaches to tackling the drug gangs.

Last Sunday evening, I went out on patrol with a police officer.

He handed me his mobile phone. There were dozens of chilling images are on it, crime scenes of the past.

Many of those images are too horrible to describe - killings and mutilations and butchery.

But now some of the tension has been lifted from Juarez. The murder rate has dropped considerably. During my four days here, no drug-related murders were reported.

But of course, no one can pretend that Ciudad Juarez doesn't have its share of problems.

Some people put the drop in violence down to suggestions that the powerful Sinaloa Cartel has won its war with the Juarez Cartel over lucrative drugs smuggling routes into the US.

Those routes have earned Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa cartel, a place on the Forbes rich list with a net worth of more than $1bn (£640m).

Eduardo Guerrero: 2006-2010 based on figures from the presidency; Jan-Nov 2011 based on analysis of media reports. 2011 estimate based on figures from Jan-Nov

The welcome news about violence has also accompanied an upturn in Juarez's economic fortunes.

The city saw many businesses close and trade slow amid the killings.

But some 20,000 jobs have been created in the city between January and May this year, according to Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia.

I saw this in action at the Tecma factory on an industrial estate in Juarez. Here they make everything from circuit boards to car mats to mannequins.

It is this kind of can-do production that is set to help the economy of Mexico to grow by some 4% this year, a marked improvement on the sluggish growth of recent years.

Police officers stand guard at Mexico City's main airport in the wake of the police shooting Security issues are key for whoever is the next president of Mexico

Tecma vice president Toby Spoon says that production costs in Mexico are now comparable to those of China, and that as a result work is now returning to Mexico.

Whatever the reason for the rise in violence in Juarez in previous years - and you will get many different versions of why it increased and why it has dropped in recent months - the tension that once blanketed everything here has lifted.

There is an air of hope amongst the people of Ciudad Juarez.

The cost of this war has been brutally high for the people of Mexico.

The official figures say that more than 47,000 people have lost their lives in the battle against the drugs trade. And although the rise in drug killings has slowed, the murders keep coming.

One high-profile case happened on Monday when three police officers were shot dead at Mexico City's main airport, murdered by fellow officers on the payroll of a drugs cartel.

Whoever is elected on Sunday will inherit a bloodstained country.

But in Ciudad Juarez at least, things appear to be changing for the better.

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