Tuesday, August 19, 2008

800 Dead: El Pasoans stay uneasy as slayings continue - El Paso Times

Juarez, Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo are the big three of centers of the Mexican drug war, but the violence pops up everywhere from the resort cities on the Pacific to Mexico City itself. No where is off limits.

Daniel Borunda / El Paso Times
Article Launched: 08/18/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT

EL PASO -- A massacre at a drug rehab center last week helped propel the death toll in Juárez to more than 800 homicides so far this year as the city is rapidly emerging among the deadliest in the Americas.
More than 100 people have been slain in August alone as the rate of street shootings, mob-style executions and other homicides has increased since a war between the Sinaloa and Juárez drug cartels erupted in January.

The inability of Mexican authorities to rein in the violence is increasing concerns on the U.S. side of the border.

"I find how brazen this (violence) is. To me, if you wanted to see what terrorism is like, you are looking at it full-fledged over there" in Juárez, El Paso police Chief Greg Allen said. "People getting killed in broad daylight in front of everyone, in police stations. That type of thing should make people very uncomfortable."

Allen maintains that the chances that drug violence in Juárez will spill into El Paso remains unlikely due to cooperation among law enforcement agencies.

"If it would have happened, it would have already happened, in my opinion," Allen said.

El Paso has had 12 homicides this year. Juárez had 13 killings Wednesday alone.

That day, eight men were killed and five others wounded when acommando-style group fired a barrage of more than 60 rounds during a religious service in a Juárez drug rehabilitation center.

There were five other homicides that day.

The homicide rate has quickened to an average of about 3.5



homicides per day in Juárez compared with an average of 1.7 homicides per day during the first 14 days in January shortly after the cartel war began. Juárez averaged 0.8 homicides per day last year.
By comparison, Medellin, Colombia, had 6,349 homicides or nearly 18 per day in 1991 during the murderous reign of drug lord Pablo Escobar, the Miami Herald reported in a recent article on that city's rebirth. Medellin has a population of about 2.1 million. In 2007, the murder count was 653, or less than two per day.

Juárez, with an estimated population close to 2 million, is the battleground in a turf war such as the one fought a few years ago in Nuevo Laredo by the Gulf cartel and the Sinaloa cartel reputedly led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Nuevo Laredo, with a population of about 350,000, has had about 500 murders since 2003, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service on Mexico's drug cartels.

"The violence in Juárez is similar to that which took place in Nuevo Laredo a few years ago, but the numbers of victims is greater (in Juárez) because Juárez is a bigger city, hence a larger drug plaza," said Howard Campbell, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who has researched drug trafficking.

"In Laredo, the situation basically settled down because the Gulf cartel won and held on to their territory," Campbell said.

"In Juárez, it is not clear yet who will win, although it appears that Chapo may have the edge. The Mexican government so far has been unable to control or stop the violence."Ê

The violence in Juárez has been the subject of articles in newspapers and magazines from New York to Los Angeles. Tourists, missionaries and others planning to visit the borderland regularly ask whether it is safe.

"None of these incidents are tourism-related. None of these people affected are tourists," said Pifas Silva, spokesman for the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau. The bureau advises visitors to Juárez to travel during daylight hours, travel with groups of two or more and visit popular tourist attractions only.

In a trip to Juárez last week, Chihuahua Gov. José Reyes Baeza complained that the media was paying too much attention to the violence in his state. "It should not be the only topic ... in the mass media. We have many good things to share with other Mexicans watching us from afar," the governor said.

Juárez city leaders have acknowledged that some economic development opportunities have been lost in the past eight months due to safety concerns.

"This whole thing is very bad for our region because of the murders and insecurity, the negativeÊeffect on tourism, and theÊoverall bad image it creates.

"Who would want to visit or set up a business in Juárez at present?" Campbell said.

El Pasoans stay uneasy as slayings continue - El Paso Times


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