“No More Weapons!” is the emphatic message posted on this controversial Ciudad Juárez sign intended for travelers entering the city from El Paso. The 26×70-foot billboard has lettering made with seized weapons that were brought into Mexico illegally from the US. However, reportedly as a symbol of good faith toward the United States, crews this week started dismantling the sign.
The El Paso Times reported that the sign was first unveiled by former Mexican President Felipe Calderón in February 2012, and was put up as a protest against the US government’s resistance to renew a ban on purchases of high-powered weapons. However, in a time where US-Mexico relations have become increasingly strained and cross-border cooperation is more necessary than ever, the governor of Chihuahua state feels it’s time for a change.
Chihuahua Governor César Duarte attended the banner’s unveiling three years ago and said the sign is regarded as a symbol of aggression or alarm by those who do not understand its context. “We want the United States to help us stop the illegal flow of arms, but in a setting of authority, not in a negative promotion of a generous city that welcomes everyone like Juárez,” he told the Times.
Cuidad Juárez Mayor Enrique Serrano agreed with the sentiment during a ceremony marking the sign’s removal. “It was a strange and difficult way to carry out Mexican diplomacy during the most difficult moments that Juárez lived,” he said.
On June 17, Mexican officials said that although the illegal flow of weapons into Mexico remains a major concern for both governments, it needs to be addressed through the appropriate diplomatic channels.
One of the drug war’s biggest controversies has been the illegal flow of high-powered weapons into Mexico – specifically, where those weapons are coming from, and in what amounts. The Mexican and US governments contend that roughly 70 percent of illegal weapons used by drug cartels are bought in the US through a method called straw purchasing, then taken illegally across the border and put into cartel hands. Gun rights advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association vehemently disagree with this assertion, claiming that the vast majority of cartel guns come from either internal Mexican sources or countries other than the US.
Regardless, Duarte believes the sign sends the wrong message in a time where Ciudad Juárez – formerly known as “Murder City” – is undergoing a critical revitalization. “We want to have welcoming messages,” he said. “We want to have open arms when it comes to tourism and to promote the region as an economically viable one.”
City workers on June 16 removed the period from the sign’s exclamation mark and turned it into an 88-pound commemorative plaque. Mayor Serrano gave it to Jack Doutrich, head of the Political Economic Section at the US Consulate General in Juárez, as a symbol of “good faith” from Juárez to the United States during Wednesday’s ceremony.
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about cross-border issues in her latest book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.