Life bordering on the Bad Lands: El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico
The Baptist Parish Progressive Examiner
A Federal Police officer wears a mask as he guards after a shootout in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Monday, Dec. 7, 2009. According to police reports, four men were shot Monday as they drove in a sedan through this border city.
Ciudad Juarez, Chih - The border between El Paso, Texas - population: 600,000 and Juarez, Mexico - population: 1.5 million - is the most dangerous border in America. This border is situated on the southwestern tip /edge of the United States and Mexico.
On one side of the border is the second-safest city of its size in the United States - after Honolulu - with only 18 murders in 2008. On the other side of the border is a lawless city ruled by drug lords where the death toll for the last 18 months is more than 2,500 and counting.
"I don't think the average American has any idea of what's going on immediately south of our border," says Kevin Kozak, acting special agent in charge of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's office of investigations in El Paso. "It's almost beyond belief."
Today, Juarez, Mexico looks a lot like a lawless Dodge City, Kansas did in 1850. Without any law enforcement entity capable of imposing order and an abundance of powerful drug cartels that kill and plunder at will, living on the border of this bad land is like living on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Fear dominates life in Juarez, Mexico's deadliest city
On October 30, 2009 the headline on one of Juarez’s leading newspaper proudly proclaimed, "Not one person murdered yesterday." This was big news for this border city, a city which many call ground zero in a drug war that threatens to spill across to El Paso, Texas.
It was the first time in 10 months that a day had passed without a murder.
However, by the end of that day, Oct. 30, the Grim Reaper would claim nine more people, their bodies riddled with bullet wounds.
Violence and death is a part of life in Juarez, a shady crime infested city that rests on the banks of the Rio Grande. Putting everyday life into perspective, at any given time of the day, lifeless bodies can be seen dangling from highway overpasses and bridges. In fact, it is not uncommon for little children walking to and from school to stumble across rotting corpses that liter landfills and ditches.
The flood of violence began in early 2008, when Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Juarez Cartel boss Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, launched a deeply personal fight over drug routes their organizations had long shared. Both have lost family members in the fight, and have adopted increasingly brutal tactics as it drags on.
Thousands of troops and federal police rolled into the city by May 2008 to stop the violence, and this year President Felipe Calderon sent in even more help, with more than 7,000 soldiers in place by March.
With the increase of troops and soldiers, the killings subsided, but soon rebounded. As the drug seizures hurt traffickers' incomes, the drug traffickers turned to kidnapping, bank robberies and carjacking.
"For Rent" signs cover the doors of nightclubs that once drew thousands of partiers across the border from El Paso, Texas. The majority of Juarez’s youth, frightened by shootouts at malls, bars and discos, socialize only in the safety of friends' homes.
The only businesses that are thriving are the funeral homes. Mothers tell daughters to run stoplights at night rather than risk being carjacked. Even in daylight, drivers dare not glance over at the next car, especially if it's an SUV with tinted windows and no plates. Newspaper hawkers hold front-page photos of tortured bodies to their windshields as a reminder to mind their own business.
Concerns for a neighboring City
Violence that originates from Juarez’s drug cartels is now spilling over into El Paso, Texas. With the crack down on drug trafficking on both sides of the border, gangs are eyeing American citizens as potential kidnapping victims.
“For now, drug cartels prefer to abduct their victims in the United States and run them across the border before harming or killing them,” says special agent Kevin Kozak. Per Kozak, in the past year, over a half-dozen kidnappings tied to drug trafficking have taken place in El Paso.”
With raising violence and escalating fears, El Paso’s police department is currently working hand in hand with FBI and ICE agents in an attempt to prevent a tide of Mexican banditos from overflowing into their neighborhoods. It is the hope of El Paso’s police force that with an increase of local and federal police presence to include an increase in community assistance, the banditos from Juarez, will be kept at off the streets of El Paso, Texas and forced to plan and execute their anarchy on their side of the border.