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Americas

'Soldiers were everywhere, except where people were killed'

©

Text by Joseph BAMAT

Latest update : 2010-08-11

The border town of Ciudad Juarez has become the epicentre of Mexico’s chaotic drug war. For some local observers, the heavy presence of Mexican federal police in the city only brought more death and violence.

More than 200 Mexican federal police agents in the border city Ciudad Juarez detained their own commander at gunpoint and accused him of blackmailing police officers, the BBC reported on Monday.

It is only the latest shocking headline to come from what has become the most dangerous city in the Americas. In July, the United States closed indefinitely its consulate in Ciudad Juarez, which shares a border with El Paso, Texas, while it carried out a review of its security procedures.

In 2009, there were more than 2,500 murders in Ciudad Juarez, some 190 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Chihuahua state police commission. By comparison, New Orleans, the murder capital of the USA, had some 64 murders per 100,000 people for the same year. The Ciudad Juarez murder count has passed 1,700 murders in 2010.

This week, former Mexican President Vicente Fox joined a growing list of people urging the current administration to legalise drugs, saying the move could break the economic power of the cartels.

West Cosgrove is the executive director of Project Puente, an El Paso-based non-profit organisation that provides educational outreach on border issues. Before 2008, Project Puente's core activity was taking university students to Ciudad Juarez to learn about living and working conditions across the border.

Those cross-border trips have all but ended.


Cosgrove, a US-citizen, told France24.com that the massive presence of Mexican security forces has only made matters worse.

France 24: When did the drug violence begin to escalate?

Cosgrove: By the end of 2008, clearly something different was going on. 1,608 persons were murdered in Ciudad Juarez in 2008. 10,000 Mexican soldiers were sent to put an end to the violence, but the violence only got worse. Human rights organizations reported hundreds of abuses by the military, including murder. Soldiers were everywhere, except where people were being killed. There was, practically speaking, no law enforcement in Juarez. Think Dodge City with no Wyatt Earp or Bat Masterson!

How has the violence changed in Ciudad Juarez?

Military presence has brought more violence, way more human-rights abuses. Estimates are that over 100,000-200,000 people have fled Juarez to escape violence. Tens of thousands have come to El Paso. Over 10,000 small businesses have closed because of the violence and extortion. The social fabric has changed: no one goes out at night, people gather in homes for parties. Tourism, once a huge source of revenue, is dead.

But when I go to Juarez, other than the presence of the military, it is also obvious that life goes on. People are out on the street, kids go to school, parents go to work. So it is this weird, seemingly contradictory situation.

Has the USA a role to play in Mexico’s ongoing drug war?

The war is about who will supply the largest drug market in the world, the USA, with illegal drugs. The USA has its own war on drugs, a 40-year failed effort started by Nixon. Our war on drugs has one common element with the Mexican war on drugs, it is pretty much an enforcement-only approach. The Bush and Obama administrations have bought in completely. The latest joint effort is called the Merida Initiative. It will provide 1.8 billion dollars over several years to the Mexican army to fight drugs. This is comparable to pouring the money down a hole. The cartels make that much money in a month!

Date created : 2010-08-11

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