Feb 1, 2010

Ciudad Juárez Descends into Another Circle of Hell

El Paso's troubled twin, Ciudad Juárez, descended into another circle of hell this weekend when hitmen opened fire on a house where teenagers were celebrating a football victory. As of today, sixteen people--mostly youth--have died on the scene or from wounds in the hospital. The community is stunned, the nation shocked, and the phone ringing off the hook with calls from media.

International media have been once again drawn by the images of blood-soaked floors and weeping families, to make the sporadic foray across the border into Cuidad Juarez's morass of violence. The city now holds the world record in homicides per capita, with 2,600 killings last year alone. 2010 stands to be the bloodiest year yet, with 227 assassinations related to organized crime in January alone.

Ciudad Juárez is not only the most violent city in the country, it is also the most militarized. Operation Chihuahua was supposed to be the showcase of President Calderón's "war on drugs". Instead it has become the tragic evidence of a dead-end strategy.

Local residents interviewed in the aftermath of the tragedy called the security forces "useless". Fearing to give their names, they noted that the seven SUVs of heavily armed gunmen entered the neighborhood, hunted down the victims and left after looting the residence, reportedly passing right by a group of soldiers in the vicinity.

“We heard a lot of shots, at first we thought they were bottle rockets, but later we heard the running and the cries of the young girls that were at the party. Then came silence and a strong odor of gunpowder," a witness was reported as saying. Residents say even ten hours after the murders, the crime scene had not been secured.

So far, no-one knows the motive of the crime. The Washington Post reported that Ciudad Juarez mayor Jose Reyes put forward the preposterous hypothesis that the hit was "random."

"There is no logical explanation, a concrete reason for this event. This is something that worries us, gratuitous or random criminal acts," Reyes told MVS Radio. "It goes way beyond what had been happening and puts Ciudad Juarez in even greater danger."

The gunmen arrived in a highly organized commando unit, sporting machine guns. Although undoubtedly innocent people were killed, there is some reason the house was targeted and if experience is any guide we may never know what it was.

One of the students in the house was reportedly a witness recently in a multiple homicide trial involving organized crime. If this is indeed the reason behind the massacre, it raises serious questions about the protection of people who step forward to give information to the authorities.

The Mexican Congress has called for the Secretaries of Defense, the Navy and Public Security, along with the Attorney General to explain their security strategy in the border city and its spectacular failure in light of the most recent killings.

The massacre comes just days after U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual praised a new strategy in Ciudad Juarez to replace army troops with federal police. "What the government has done now is an intelligent measure to introduce the federal police, which has all the legal capacities, and put them on the front line in the war on against drug-traffickers," he told the Mexican press.

The attack raises questions about the new strategy, which is really a facelift of the old strategy. Experts like General Francisco Gallardo of the Mexican Armed forces, now a human rights leader, note that the difference between the armed forces and the police is often just a change of uniform. Although some groups in Washington have insisted that a shift from army to police represents a major improvement in the drug war strategy, this incident indicates that the violence and impunity of organized crime will continue unabated.

The root problem lies in the militarized enforcement focus of the drug war, supported by the U.S. government through the Merida Initiative. Reduction of demand for illicit drugs, treatment and prevention of addictions, and a concerted attack on the financial structure of organized crime have nearly fallen off the policy map under the current plan.

A story in the Mexican daily El Universal notes that 70% of Merida resources remain in the United States, doled out in contracts for military equipment and intelligence equipment.

As companies like Northrop, Dyncorp and Blackhawk make millions on continuing the war on drugs south of the border, the violence is spiraling out of control.

1 comment:

  1. People have either short or selective memories when they fund mexican police and military agencies to fight the drug war. Hasn't the New York Times, over the years reported on these same agencies involvement in the drug trade?