Sunday, November 1, 2009

Light at the End of the Tunnel, or is it?


Has Ciudad Juarez become lost to the drug cartels?

In Juarez you don't have to wait long for the next casualty, just sit long enough on a taco stand and violence will creep up so fast, you will not have time to order another round. Last week the city had a day without any executions and everyone was confused, wondering what was wrong.

Beheadings and amputations. Iraqi-style brutality, bribery, extortion, kidnapping, and murder. Shoot-outs between federales and often against better armed and trained drug cartels. This is modern Mexico, whose president, Felipe Calderón, has been struggling since 2006 to release his country from the grip of four powerful cartels and their estimated 100,000 foot soldiers.


New figures released by Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz indicate the death toll for this year has already surpassed 2,000 homicides, over 450 more than the total count for 2008. Nowhere has the bloodshed been worse than in Ciudad Juarez with 2065 homicides reported just this year. No other city has suffered so much, has witnessed misery so much, has been battered so much as has Ciudad Juarez.


The Stats:
303 homicides in October as repoerted by El Diario.
307 homicides in September.
315 homicides in August.
2,094 homicides in 2009 so far and as of Ocober 31, 2009.
1,607 homicides in 2008.

The gangland-style violence has left no corner of Ciudad Juarez untouched. Drug-related slayings take place in houses, restaurants and bars, at playgrounds and children's parties, and in car-to-car ambushes. It's nerve wrecking.

"It has been 22 months of this war, and it hasn't stopped. The violence has increased, and the possibility that it will stop is becoming more remote," Reyes Ferriz said in a phone interview.

The mayor attributed the surge in drug-related violence to an influx of cartel groups. The rival Sinaloa and Juarez cartels are making their way to the city to participate in the warfare for the control of the smuggling route between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas. The Sinaloa cartel is headed by Mexico's most wanted man, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, according to authorities.


"The majority of the people detained and the bodies found are not from Ciudad Juarez. It is an intense battle between these two groups. The level of violence has reached new levels. Retaliation between the groups has become more violent and terrorizing," Reyes Ferriz said.

Dismemberments and beheadings have become a common method of retaliation. A government source told about a case where a relative of a drug cartel member was tied to two trucks and stretched until his arms where ripped apart.

The dead are mostly unknown obscured figures in the underground world of the drug trade but are also innocents caught in the crossfire, make up a long procession of clients for busy coroner and daily material for the media sources and blogs (we can hardly keep up). But the mayor down plays the effect on the general population.

"The important thing for the population is that the large majority of these cases are criminals. We haven't had many cases in which the general population has been involved," Reyes Ferriz said.


According to Ciudad Juarez government figures, about 100 homicides in 2009 have been "inocentes," or innocent bystanders, compared with around 30 in 2008. These homicides include people caught in crossfire and relatives of cartel members.

The city's tourism economy is sinking and the recession has cut deeply into border trade, but the death industry here is robust and flourishing. Hell, the police has even ran out of crime scene tape. The government can hardly keep up with the rising boom in the business of death and murder, the only thing where production is going up.


Mayor Reyes Ferriz, 47, is a very optimistic lawyer always wearing a clean white shirt and as the boss in Juarez, finds himself now-a-days in a pile of troubles. The killings have terrorized his constituents and frightened off Americans. His police force is so riddled with crooked cops that when he fired 334 municipal officers a couple of months back, the number of bank robberies went down.

All over town, people ask who really rules Juarez. Reyes says the government "has to retake control of the streets." The unspoken admission is that they are already lost.

Asked whether he sees a light at the end of the tunnel, the mayor said he is awaiting the arrival of 1,000 police cadets who recently graduated.

"The light has just arrived," he said. "We are beginning the second phase of our work. It took us a year and a half to strengthen our police force. "We're at the turning point," Reyes Ferriz had said trying to stay optimistic. We are optimistic the surge in the police force will put us in a different place."


"I think that the mayor is more optimistic than most people in the city," said Tony Payan, a political science professor at UTEP. Reyes Ferriz has made progress with the police department, but the recruits face the same intimidation as their predecessors at the hands of the violent drug gangs, Payan said.

The training period has also been too short for the mission they will be carrying out, he said.

In short it places a temporary short lived "band aid" solution to a long simmering "bloody" problem. For how long can a community withstand such violent onslaught and a constant life of insecurity?


Regardless of the political take on the problem and what is necessary to find peace and tranquility in the streets of Juarez, the people of Juarez live a daily life of misery and despair. It is honorable to see that the mayor has a positive outlook in the Juarez' mayhem to the point that he sees light at the end of the tunnel, because the only thing that the town has seen lately is a bullet at the end of a gun barrel.


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