People Living In The US-Mexico Border Filled With Fear
EL PASO, TX — Ciudad Juarez, Mexico has seen a lot of blood in recent years, more than 6,000 people have been killed since late 2007 as a result of the war between two powerful drug cartels fighting to control the city and its border.
Since March 2008, Ciudad Juarez has been militarized by the Mexican Army. Mexican President Felipe Calderon along with the governor of Chihuahua ordered a deployment of 7,000 troops to help end the violence. But the military presence has done little to stop it.
DRUGS, DRUGS, AND MORE DRUGS
According to Louie Gilot, a former reporter for El Paso Times, the goal of the cartels is to win the Juarez Plaza and gain control over drug trafficking in the El Paso-Juarez ports of entry. Drugs are smuggled in semis, cars, pick up trucks, etc. Only about 3 percent of the drug shipments are caught by border patrol, the other 93 percent make it to the US drug markets.
“They send the decoys first,” says Gilot, “then while they spend 3 hours taking apart that car, the other drug shipments go right through.”
Elvia Hernandez is with the LULAC chapter of El Paso, Texas. She blames the violence in Juarez to the demand for drugs in the US.
“Something has to happen. And whose fault is it? The United States because of supply and demand! We have the demand for the drugs here, well that’s not not gonna step them,” Hernandez said.
According to an op-ed on the Wall Street Journal, drug consumption in 2009 from the US generated $10 billion in cash flow for the cartels. That’s enough money to continue the job.
THE DEADLY VIOLENCE
People in Juarez and El Paso are well aware of the situation they are facing. It’s common knowledge, for example, that the cartels outnumber the Mexican Army and that they are armed with more sophisticated weaponry. To make things worse, petty criminals and gangs that were already in Juarez have joined the cartels. Fighting two well-armed drug cartels, plus the city gangs is something the Mexican Army cannot win.
The recent killing of a US Consulate employee, her husband and one other earlier this month, captured the attention of the world one more time and forced the US Department of State to work closer with the Mexican government to avoid further episodes of violence.
On Monday, the Mexican police announced that a man had been captured in connection to the killings, however, it’s important to point out that the police in Mexico is well known for capturing the wrong individuals and blaming them for a crime they didn’t commit in order to save face.
According to Gilot, these was not the first time US citizens have been killed in Juarez. Apparently, it happens quite often to Mexican Americans that were born in El Paso, but lived across the bridge in Juarez. What made the most recent killings newsworthy is that one of them worked for the US government; other killings go almost unnoticed.
NOT OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Some 40 percent of businesses have closed down in Juarez, including manufacturing plants or “maquilas,” and retail shops. Gilot says that buildings and homes are boarded up everywhere.
“Some parts look like ghost towns,” Gilot explained.
Tourism is down to zero because Americans will not dare step a foot in the violent city. The cheap prices are not worth it. Still, families in Juarez are doomed to live in constant fear that in any day they can be killed. According to interviews, at least 50 to 80 percent of the people in Juarez have a relative or know someone who is in the cartel or the gangs.
This level of fear led to an exodus of people from Juarez to move to El Paso. The city saw a boom in real estate and business when the people fleeing moved in. Middle-class and wealthy Mexicans bought homes and opened restaurants in El Paso, pleasing El Paso city officials.
Yet, there is another group of Mexicans that have suddenly become law-breakers. Gilot says that many poorer Mexicans with permits to cross the border and shop in El Paso decided never to go back to Juarez.
“They become illegal immigrants,” Gilot said. “They have tried to seek political asylum.”
But political asylum status can only be given if a person is being targeted directly by the government. In this case, the people in Juarez are being targeted by criminals. According to Gilot, people in Juarez have deeper connections with people in El Paso than with people in other parts of Mexico and that is why they try to flee there.
FEAR IN EL PASO, TEXAS
People in El Paso, Texas and even in Las Cruces, New Mexico fear that the violence in Juarez could spill over to the US side. Already some kidnappings have taken place in broad daylight in El Paso. Texas prison gangs have connected with criminals in Juarez to do their bidding on the US side.
The kidnappings in El Paso have been far in between and consisted of gangs trying to capture someone who worked for the cartels and was fleeing.
“They take them back to Juarez to meet their faith,” Gilot says. “Usually to kill them.”
But authorities in the US side are not taking chances. El Paso police and border patrol have been given better weapons to match the ones cartels and gangs use, sources tell the NJP. Guns and protective gear is something that even police in Las Cruces, New Mexico, some 40 miles away, has requested.
Ironically, El Paso is the 2nd safest city of its size in the United States, with an estimated 20 murders a year. It’s neighbor, Ciudad Juarez is the most violent city not only in Mexico, but also in North America.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Mexico last week to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderon and talk about ways to curtail drug trafficking to the US, but many people say that throwing more money at the problem won’t solve it. The solution, they argue, is to revise the US’ war on drugs.
“For instance if we legalized Marijuana, which is about 50 percent of what the Mexican smugglers are smuggling, 50 percent of their revenue rather because it’s such a popular drug in the United States,” Gilot explains. “If we legalized it or maybe decriminalize it a little bit, it would take away that money, all that revenue from the drug cartel. They would have a lot less to fight for in Mexico. But we have to investigate other ways to solve this problem and the war on drugs and that is what some local people are saying here.”
Gilot says that she doesn’t see an end to the violence in Juarez until one of the rival cartels wins the drug corridor. Once a cartel has taken control, police and the Mexican army will only have to root out one cartel instead of two.