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Mexico's 'island of security'

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Juan Ignacio Llana Ugalde

(Read caption) Parkgoers enjoy a peaceful afternoon in Mérida, Mexico.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

As the sun sets in Mérida, a festive city on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, young teens on park benches in the center of town pop open their laptops. This seemingly normal scene is actually quite remarkable in a country besieged by violence, where residents take off expensive jewelry and watches, and disguise their portable laptops when in public.

But Mérida is one of the safest cities in Mexico. Last year the Yucatán (Mérida is the capital) was the only one of Mexico’s states not to have registered a single drug-related murder, according to the University of San Diego’s Transborder Institute. Through the first week of April of this year, that record stood.

Compare that with the other end of the spectrum, Chihuahua State. Just across the border from Texas, Chihuahua had 3,185 murders last year, and more than 600 are on record so far this year. Despite its snarled traffic, overtaxed public services, and pile of decapitated corpses found outside city limits in 2008, Mérida is increasingly being recognized as an oasis of calm in troubled Mexico. In a recent poll by the firm Mitofsky Consulting, it was among the top 10 places Mexicans say they would like to live, study, and vacation.

The city was officially declared a “City of Peace” this January by the nongovernmental organization “100 Cities for Peace.” The municipality is quick to boast of its new credentials. “This is an island of security in a country sadly undergoing such difficult times,” says Francisco Lezama, chief of staff in the mayor’s office of Mérida. “Security is the most important thing we offer.”

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