MEXICO CITY (AP) – The once-embattled Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez has started to take down a billboard made of soldered, seized guns reading "No More Weapons," one of the most visible reminders of its violence-laden recent past.
The stark, black-and-white sign was erected in 2012 by the government of former President Felipe Calderon on the side of a bridge linking the city to El Paso, Texas. The letters were formed by crushed, confiscated pistols and rifles, and the billboard was spelled out in English as a visible protest of the illegal trade in weapons from the United States.
Mayor Enrique Serrano said Wednesday that the billboard was being taken down because Juarez wants to project a more tourist-friendly image.
"This was the main diplomatic expression of its time, telling the United States not to allow more weapons in," Serrano said. "But it is a topic that should be addressed more politely."
"We want to have a message of welcome, of extending open arms to tourism," said the mayor.
Chihuahua state Gov. Cesar Duarte suggested the billboard be replaced by one saying "Welcome," or its Spanish equivalents, "Bienvenidos."
Because the huge sign is made of steel, it has to be cut up piece by piece, a process that could be finished by the end of the week.
The sign consists of three metric tons of guns seized by the Mexican army, plus a support structure, and local officials hope to use the steel to build a decorative column or obelisk in the city's Chamizal park.
Ciudad Juarez once saw an average of as many as 10 homicides a day during the darkest days of drug-gang violence in 2010 and 2011.
The homicide rate has declined to about an average of 22 a month in the first four months of 2015, or less than one a day. The decline appears to be due to police and justice reform as well as changes in the drug trade and the gangs that fought over border trafficking routes.
Ciudad Juarez was known for tourism decades ago, drawing Americans looking for quickie divorces and, improbably, locally distilled whisky.
Now, the desert city may have something almost as improbable to offer visitors: dolphins.
On Wednesday, the Mexican government announced two bottlenose dolphins, Isis and Luna, were flown From central Mexico to the Anita water park in Ciudad Juarez. Technically, the dolphins are government property and are loaned to or deposited with parks.