Mexico murder capital on lockdown for Pope Francis visit
This is the murderous street in the most violent district of Mexico City that has been given a makeover in preparation for the visit of Pope Francis. Gang graffiti on the notorious Avenida Insurgentes has been painted over with adoring murals, homeless people have been removed, and stray puppies killed.
This will give the pontiff a very different impression of the road in Ecatepec district, on the outskirts of Mexico City, which boasts three times the national homicide rate and eight times the Mexican average for female murders.
The newly-resurfaced road has been cleared of homeless people and Central American migrants for five blocks on either side.
It will have heavily-armed marines positioned every ten yards to control a crowd expected to exceed 300,000 adoring Catholics.
The packs of stray dogs that attacked small children were rounded up by the dog-catcher in January and killed at the pound.
All of this is part of a bid to impress the pontiff, who specifically requested to visit the area.
'If you had a guest coming to your house, you’d sweep the floor,' said Arturo Osornio, the head of Ecatepec’s Social Development Ministry.
‘Our district has many problems, but the residents are devout people and we want to show him our love.'
But he defended the extreme measure of killing large numbers of street dogs.
‘Relocating them elsewhere would have had no effect’, said Arturo when questioned about the local authorities' radical decision.
‘They would have made their way back here anyway and spoiled the day’.
For Norma Ponce, who has lived in Ecatepec for 35 years, the pope’s visit gives her hope for the future of her city.
‘I have seen so much death and violence during my time here that it makes me so happy to think that our suffering is in the thoughts of Pope Francis’, she told MailOnline, waving her Vatican flag beside her home’s electric fence. ‘It gives me hope for the future of our country’.
Pope Francis specified that a visit to Mexico would have to include the district as well as Juarez City on the Texas border - dubbed one of the deadliest places on earth.
But the murder rate in Juarez City pales in comparison to Ecatepec, who sees 36 killings every 100,000 people to Juarex City’s 29.
Far from the polished area deemed fit for the pope, life remains a daily hell for Ecatepec’s three million residents who face kidnap, extortion and violence.
Just 800 yards from the spot where the pontiff will deliver his speech in Fracción Las Americas, Sunday's Pope-friendly setting stands in stark contrast to the street usually racked by bloodshed.
‘The Pope’s visit isn’t going to stop the violence’, says Gael Salazar, 24, as he struggles to restrain the snarling pit bull terrier at his feet.
'All it means is that for one day there will be no robberies or murders in one small part of Ecatepec. People will still have to watch their backs and lock up their doors, windows and cars at night’.
Back on the main street, in what seems like an alternate universe, Mexican artists have painted murals on walls alongside the motorway which were once covered with spray-painted gang insignia.
Pope Francis appears to cast magical spells in one, while another shows him sporting a sombrero with the words ‘Viva Mexico’ around its wide brim.
Jesus Jasso plans to chant: ‘Salt, Lime, Tequila; Pope Francis is the bringer of compassion and peace!’ as the pontiff’s vehicle rolls past.
He has his own tactic to ensure that he and his companions retain their front-row position.
‘We will stand in a line and hold a piece of string between us,’ he told MailOnline while his friends worked on their rallying call. ‘That way no one who arrives afterwards can get past us; unless they jump over it’.
The Mariachi Laguna group have also reserved their space on the roadside, and the eight-man band will play a medley of traditional tunes as the head of the Catholic Church rolls past.
‘We are so proud that Francis is visiting our home town’, said their lead trumpeter Juan Carlos, ‘finally Ecatepec will be famous for more than death and violence’.