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Numbed by Ciudad Juarez’s endless killings, Mexico shrugs off teen party deaths
The people of Ciudad Juarez are starting to lose all hope. When gunmen burst into a birthday party on Friday and killed 14 people, the horrific act should have at least shocked Mexican authorities into action. But even the sight of blood running out of a suburban patio, the broken chairs and the party-goers’ bodies slumped on the concrete have become all too familiar in the desert city across from El Paso, Texas.
It was at the start of 2010 that another, gruesomely similar shooting was warning enough that the city was spiraling toward criminal anarchy.
In January in a working class neighborhood just blocks away from Friday’s shooting, gunmen killed 15 people, again mainly teenagers, at a party. Back then, just like on Friday, a nearby federal police checkpoint seemed to turn a blind eye to what was going on and did nothing to stop the killers.
At the very least in January, the mother of one of the slain teenagers had the chance to vent her anger in person at Felipe Calderon, the conservative president who launched Mexico’s drug war four years ago. The Mexican leader was sufficiently moved by the January killings to fly to Ciudad Juarez and there, amid national outrage, he announced a plan to rebuild the broken, dirty mess of the city that was once lauded as a poster child for free trade, with its factories producing fridges and television for U.S. consumers.
Poverty, joblessness and a lack of a future for the young, it was rightly said, were the sources of much of the drug gang warfare that has broken out in Ciudad Juarez since 2008.
That reconstruction has included thousands of education grants, parks and community centers, hospital beds and giving almost 140,000 more people access to free medical care. There is even a sports field dedicated to the teenagers killed in January. But most of the streets of Ciudad Juarez are still folorn and many in the downtown that once catered to free-wheeling American tourists are filled with crumbling buildings. Childrens’ playgrounds lie abandoned, covered with graffiti. Killers are still at large.
Residents say that after eight months, a new federal police operation to fight drug gangs, and hundreds more murders, Calderon’s plan has failed. It’s hard to disagree.
But what seems worse is the sense that authorities are becoming numbed by the killings, now at almost 7,000 in the city since January 2008. Calderon’s condemnation of Friday’s killing was limited to a few brief remarks on Twitter and a later statement. Police investigating the crime so far have only two basic sketches of a suspect. Officials said on Monday they have no plans to investigate the former attorney general in Chihuahua, the state which includes Ciudad Juarez. Her kidnapped brother said in a video posted on the Internet this week that he worked for a drug cartel and ordered hits on her behalf. The new mayor’s only contribution has been to say that he is scared, just like everyone else.