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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Juárez Strategy Deemed a Failure

Mexico reassesses as Juárez strategy deemed a failure

The Washington Post

Juarez, Chihuahua — Senior Mexican officials have begun a sweeping review of the military's two-year occupation of this dangerous border city across from El Paso, concluding that the U.S.-backed deployment of thousands of soldiers against drug traffickers has failed to control the violence and crime, according to officials in both countries.

The multiagency review represents a "serious reassessment" of Mexican President Felipe Calderón's anti-narcotics strategy and reflects growing alarm that Juárez has descended into lawlessness, U.S. officials familiar with the process said.

The war on Mexico's powerful drug cartels has been the defining policy of Calderón's administration, involving unprecedented cooperation with U.S. authorities. Failure on a high-profile battleground such as Juárez would represent a major defeat for Calderón and for U.S. officials determined to curb the multibillion-dollar flow of drugs across the border.

"There is an almost unanimous consensus in the city that the strategy hasn't worked," said Hugo Almada, a sociology professor at the Autonomous University of Juárez who organized a peace march of more than 3,000 people this month.

Calderón declared Juárez the "tip of the spear" in the fight against the drug cartels and sent 10,000 soldiers and federal agents into the city of 1.3 million to bolster the local police and replace corrupt or incompetent elements.

But criminal outfits fighting over Juárez have overwhelmed even military authorities. With more than 2,500 homicides, Juárez has accounted for more than one-third of the 6,000 drug-related slayings in Mexico this year; since April, when a surge of federal troops brought a brief lull, the city has resumed a pace of eight to 10 murders a day.

Mexican officials plan to investigate why the military has failed to stem the violence and what new options might be available. Calderón has said the military will return to its barracks when federal and local police officers are ready, but reforms have moved slowly and could be years away, U.S. and Mexican officials said.

There is widespread debate about the way forward in Juárez, with some officials and civic leaders proposing additional troops and others a complete withdrawal. The head of a powerful business organization that represents the local assembly factories, or maquiladoras, recently called for the United Nations to send troops to Juárez.

The new U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual, abruptly canceled a fact-finding trip to Juárez this month after learning of the Mexican government's policy review. U.S. officials said they are waiting to learn whether the discussions will lead to a shift in Calderón's strategy.

The U.S. backed that strategy under the 2007 Merida Initiative, signed by then-President George W. Bush. The bulk of the $1.4 billion aid package pays for helicopters, surveillance planes, police training and inspection equipment.

But with the initiative due to expire next year, U.S. officials have indicated that they plan to move to a softer approach that focuses on issues such as judicial reform and support programs aimed at impoverished youths like those who are recruited by the thousands into criminal gangs.

Juárez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said he recently requested an emergency intervention from the federal government to boost social services. He said the Mexican government is prepared to spend $100 million to curb unemployment and improve opportunities for disadvantaged youths.

The U.S. State Department also plans to contribute to Juárez programs, officials said.

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