Crime and Economic Punishment in the State of Zacatecas

For years, the economy of the north central Mexican state of Zacatecas has grown increasingly dependent on remittances sent home by sons and daughters living in the United States. Many of the migrants boosted the economy by building homes in their native towns. They returned at Christmas time on the feast days of the local patron saint. Many dreamed of retiring to the place where they had grown up.

Now a great reversal is underway. Across the state, homes have been put up for sale, glutting the market and depressing prices. Many of the migrants have been caught in the U.S. economic downturn and need the money to sustain themselves north of the border. Many are fearful of the violence and kidnapping that have shaken Zacatecas, as kidnappers and drug traffickers become increasingly bold and ruthless.

A story in today’s Reforma newspaper, out of Mexico City, quotes a government official in the town of Jerez as saying a third of the town’s properties are for sale.

When I visited Zacatecas several years ago, the mayor of Jerez said about 30,000 natives had moved to the U.S., leaving about an equal number behind in the town. They had become steadily more dependent on remittances. If you took the remittances out of Jerez, it would wreck the economy, the owner of one of the town’s many money transfer businesses told me.

As the U.S. economy has suffered, so has the economy of Jerez, where remittances have fallen drastically. Crime, especially kidnapping of residents who have relatives in the U.S., has also shaken the area.
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