By Daniel Borunda
El Paso Times
Homicides in the Juárez drug war will soon surpass the 5,000 mark as a vicious conflict continues.
As of Sunday evening, there have been more than 760 murders this year, raising to 4,992 homicides in the Juárez area since 2008 when a drug cartel war erupted, according to a tally kept by the El Paso Times.
The war between the Sinaloa and Juárez drug cartels that began in January 2008 sparked an unprecedented wave of murder, including daytime street shootings, mutilations and massacres.
By comparison, the number of deaths in Juárez surpasses the 4,393 members of the U.S. military who have died in the Iraq war since 2003.
The killings in Juárez have been unrelenting.
On Saturday night, gunmen burst into a funeral vigil for a slain teenager and opened fire, killing three women and wounding 10 others at a house in the Independencia 2 colonia in the southern part of Juárez.
Chihuahua state police said the shooters fired 44 rounds. Police identified the dead as Maria del Carmen Rangel Chacon, 65, Sara Orosco Rangel, 46, and Ernestina Rubio Martinez, who was 55 to 60 years old.
Juárez was still reeling from the brazen ambush of a police patrol that killed six federal officers, a city policewoman and another man on Friday afternoon on a busy street.
Officials said Juárez police are on "red alert," and patrols would now be done in squads of three or four vehicles in an attempt to deter further attacks.
La Linea, or Juárez drug cartel, took credit for the deadly ambush according to a message spray-painted on a wall. The message accused federal police of working for drug lord Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman's rival Sinaloa cartel.
The Associated Press recently reported the Sinaloa cartel was believed to be winning the turf war against La Linea, which in a graffiti message denied it had lost control of the "plaza" or territory.
The Juárez mayor said recently that much of the recent violence was fighting among street gangs battling for control of retail drug distribution.
Mexican Sen. Ramon Galindo of Chihuahua cited the recent arrests of federal officers accused of extorting Juárez residents and urged authorities to purge corrupt officers sent to the border city. Federal officers earlier this year took control of the federal government's anti-crime operation in Juárez.
"At these heights, the city cannot keep being treated as a laboratory for strategies," Galindo said in a statement. "Guarantees are needed that the correct thing is being done with the correct people and the correct strategy."
Though the violence has not spread into El Paso, local business leaders said more than two years of bloodshed in Juárez has become a challenge while trying to lure new companies and development to the region.
The El Paso Regional Economic Development Corp., or REDCo, has a public relations firm working to improve El Paso's image in the national and international media.
REDCo and the firm, Development Counsellors International of New York, gave a presentation to business leaders last week about the issue.
"We aren't trying to paint a rosy picture because the violence is a concern," said Bob Cook, president and CEO of REDCo, during the presentation.
But despite the violence, maquiladoras in Juárez have not reported a labor shortage, companies still plan to open cross-border factories and there is no credible data that 30,000 people from Juárez have taken refuge in El Paso, Cook said.
"I'm not blaming the press. ... The press is doing their job," Cook said.
Andy Levine, president of the New York-based public relations firm, said the goal was not to try to cover up news but to ensure that out-of-town coverage features positives about the El Paso region, such as the growth of Fort Bliss.
"We get a more balanced picture," Levine said. "And in this sort of game that is success."