Valle de Juarez, Chihuahua - Mexican authorities have dispatched large numbers of Mexican federal police and soldiers to the Valley of Juarez after weeks of terror.
The surge in federal forces comes after dozens of killings, the burning of homes and the attempted torching of a church. Many residents had moved away after receiving threats to leave or die as drug cartels battle for turf.
The visible federal presence appeared to have brought a sense of calm in stark contrast to two weeks ago, when the remaining residents were afraid to step outside at night.
On Wednesday, caravans of federal police vehicles rolled in the streets of small towns. Soldiers with machine guns stood behind sandbags at checkpoints on the roads in the farming area that is a battleground in the war between cartels. Helicopters flew over dirt roads looking for suspicious activity.
Enrique Torres, spokesman for Coordinated Operation Chihuahua, said there was a rise during the weekend in the number of military and federal police patrolling in the valley, which stretches 50 miles southeast of Juarez.
The exact number of soldiers and federal police sent to the valley was not disclosed because the numbers are constantly modified, Torres said.
Torres said the increased patrols were in response to threats made to residents of the valley. “They will continue as long as necessary,” he said.
A truck passes by a house alledgedly burned by drug cartel members in La Esperanza, near Ciudad Juarez, in the Valle de Juarez, northern Mexico, Wednesday April 7, 2010. Hundreds of residents in the area have abandoned their homes escaping from the increasing violence by drug cartels.
The Valley of Juarez — with towns and villages such as El Porvenir, Guadalupe and Praxedis G. Guerrero — is across the border from Texas towns San Elizario, Fabens, Tornillo and Fort Hancock.
Chihuahua Gov. Jose Reyes Baeza recently asked law enforcement agencies to beef up their efforts after residents pleaded for help. Baeza said he would also increase the state police presence there.
More than 50 people were killed in the valley in March. The Sinaloa drug cartel is fighting with the Juarez drug cartel for control of the valley, a prime smuggling corridor.
Despite the additional patrols, violence continues.
Gunmen killed a man between 25 and 30 years old almost at midnight Tuesday in the streets of San Isidro, adjacent to San Elizario.
Last Friday, a group of armed men tried to burn down the Nuestra Senora del Sagrado Corazon de Jesus, a Catholic church in El Porvenir, across the border from Fort Hancock.
The church’s door is blackened. Some of the interior was damaged. But services continued, and some parishioners posted signs saying the arson would not deter their faith.
A man stands in an alley between abandoned business and houses in Guadalupe, near Ciudad Juarez,
The attacks in the valley also spread fear to the U.S. side of the border.
Responding to residents’ concerns, Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West increased the number of deputies guarding the Fort Hancock area. He said there haven’t been problems.
Border Patrol spokesman Doug Mosier said residents are worried about increased attacks in Mexican towns.
Men gather at an alley in Guadalupe, near Ciudad Juarez, Valle de Juarez, northern Mexico, Wednesday, April 7, 2010.
Mosier said that some reports are getting distorted and that none of the rumors of school buses being followed and of kidnappings have been confirmed. “We are not saying these reports are false, but we have to confirm them before they react,” he said recently.
In light of concerns, the Border Patrol has increased its manpower and technology in West Texas. “We’ve got a very keen eye on the border area,” Mosier said.
Catholic priest Salvador Salgado stands inside his church damaged after, he said, gunmen belonging to a drug cartel alledgedly tried to burn it down last April 4 in the El Porvenir, Valle de Juarez, near Ciudad Juarez, northern Mexico, Wednesday, April 7, 2010.
Meanwhile in Juarez, the Mexican army is switching local patrol duties with federal police. Soldiers had been teamed on patrols with city and transit police. The military will remain in the city.
Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz announced Wednesday that 5,000 federal police officers will be deployed to work with city police, bringing to about 7,000 the total number of federal officers in the city.
Coordinated Operation Chihuahua officials said about 1,900 federal police began arriving Monday on flights into Juarez, part of the added forces.