When Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, ordered 2,500 troops and federal agents into border city Ciudad Juarez 17 months ago to tamp down drug violence, the monthly murder rate ran at an average of 66. In retrospect, those were the days of peace and calm.
Ciudad Juarez has become the most active front in simultaneous and increasingly bloody wars. One is between drug cartels fighting each other for access to the U.S. market. Another is between drug traffickers and Mexican authorities charged with imposing law and order. They have been singularly unsuccessful.
Despite a vastly increased military presence (now about 7,000, plus 2,500 federal agents), the monthly body count this year has averaged more than 180 a month. In August, the body count exceeded 300, a record. According to a study published in August by a Mexican non-profit group, the Citizen Council for Public Security and Justice, Ciudad Juarez (population 1.6 million) has become the world’s most violent city.
Nation-wide, almost 14,000 people have died in drug-related violence since Calderon took office and declared war on the drug business. Casualties on the government side: 725 police and soldiers between the beginning of 2008 and mid-2009 alone.
But body counts tell only part of the story. To hear residents of Ciudad Juarez tell it, there is a third war going on, waged by common criminals against citizens who are fast losing what little faith they had that the state can provide security.