Ciudad Juarez’s grim milestone: 6,000 dead

July 13, 2010

The daily killings have become so normal they have almost ceased to shock.  Unless Mexico’s Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, bucks all previous indicators and undergoes a dramatic security turnaround, the death toll from the drug war raging in the city since January 2008 will reach 6,000 people this month. That is more than all the dead serving in the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. MEXICO/It is also a tragic milestone reached with the killings of mostly teenage hitmen, police, drug addicts, dealers and people who failed to cough up extortion money and kidnap ransoms.MEXICO-ELECTIONS/

The grim tally underlines a harsh decline for Ciudad Juarez, which was hailed in the 1990s as the poster child for free trade, the city that through the North American Free Trade Agreement was meant to bring prosperity and stability via its border factories exporting dishwashers and televisions to the United States. The Ciudad Juarez-El Paso region did handle $50 billion in trade in 2008, but little of that wealth stayed in Ciudad Juarez.

Federal police told Reuters last month that drug killings had fallen since they took over security in the city in April. But nothing seems to be further from the truth. According to tallies at the respected Ciudad Juarez daily El Diario, June was the bloodiest month yet with 306 deaths and July could surpass that total, with more than 130 deaths over the past 13 days.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that the city’s drug war is taking on a life of its own, no longer limited to a territorial fight between top Sinaloa smuggler Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, Mexico’s most wanted man, and the dominant Juarez cartel. While Ciudad Juarez remains the most strategic gateway to U.S. drug market, the fight is also over the local drug market that has swelled to more than 200,000 addicts in a city of 1.5 million people. Anyone selling drugs for the dozens of rival gangs that fall under the uMEXICO-DRUGS/HITMANmbrellas of the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels are in the firing line. Thousands of federal police and soldiers sent in to beat back the drug trade are accused by rights workers and drug experts of being sucked into the narcotics business. State security forces deny any wrongdoing.

Things don’t look good for Ciudad Juarez. President Felipe Calderon’s pledge in February of financial aid to create jobs, entice youngsters out of drug gangs and regenerate the most dangerous neighborhoods has yet to show progress. The city’s incoming mayor, due to take office in October, is accused of being in bed with the Juarez cartel, although he denies any such links. The governor elect of Chihuahua state, which includes Ciudad Juarez, was accused during his campaign of using a plane owned by a local businessman arrested by the FBI in June on money laundering charges. An inauspicious start.

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And if it wasn’t for Gov. Jan Brewer, the citizens of Tucson would be living in the same nightmare.

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