Pubdate: Sun, 25 Jan 2009
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2009 San Antonio Express-News
Author: Dudley Althaus
Bookmark: (Mexico)


CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico - In this carnage-racked border  city of 1.3
million, more than 80 murders have been  clocked in the past three
weeks, and kidnappings,  extortions, robberies and rapes further
bedevil an  already rattled population.

So far, the new year looks to be bringing as much if  not more havoc
than the last. The demons are loose.

"Walking in the streets of Juarez is an extreme sport,"  said
political scientist Tony Payan, an expert on  border violence,
repeating a grim quip making the  rounds.

Though little more than 1 percent of Mexico's 105  million population
lives in Juarez, it accounted for a  third of the country's nearly
5,400 gangland murders  last year, according to the federal
government. And  with President Felipe Calderon's war on the country's
 powerful drug syndicates unlikely to abate, this city  bordering El
Paso looks to remain a prime battleground.

Some U.S. security experts warn that Mexico teeters on  meltdown - of
being a "failed state." Irritated Mexican  leaders shrug off the
notion, but Juarez's criminal  chaos wails like a siren before an
approaching storm.

"Those of us on the border are evidence of how raw  things can get,"
said Lucinda Vargas, a former World  Bank official who heads the
Juarez Strategic Plan, a  think tank. "There is not a corner of the
city that  escapes the effects of crime."

Once contained largely to the gangsters themselves, the  mayhem has
become generalized. Just who the demons are  depends upon who is being
tormented, who is doing the  tormenting.

Consider that Tuesday alone:

- - Authorities recovered the decapitated head of a police  chief of a
town just down river. Three other heads  stuffed into a cooler were
left on the steps of a city  hall in a neighboring village.

- - Two state police detectives were shot to death in their  patrol
truck in a downtown Juarez parking lot.

- - A Juarez traffic police commander was kidnapped by  unknown

And then consider that 10 people were murdered the  previous
Wednesday, Jan. 14, including a 19-year-old  law student-varsity
baseball pitcher who had been  abducted 30 hours earlier from his
family's townhouse  near the border.

The parents of the student, Jaime Irigoyen, said their  son's
abductors wore army uniforms and spoke with  southern Mexico accents,
like many of the 3,000  soldiers patrolling the city's streets.

A Mexican army statement denied soldiers were involved.

"That whoever deprived him of liberty were dressed in  military-style
uniforms in no way says they were  soldiers," the army said. "We call
on the general  public not to be fooled by criminal gangs."

But members of the public said they saw men in uniform  commit crimes.
Witnesses said the eight gunmen who  stormed a prayer service at a
drug rehabilitation  center in August and killed eight people were
attired  in military garb as well.

"They were dressed like soldiers," said Socorro Garcia,  the
Assemblies of God pastor who was leading the  service.

As in most of the city's more than 1,600 homicides last  year, no one
has been arrested for the clinic attack  nor for the student's killing.

"One can't take refuge in a real rule of law, because  it doesn't
exist here," said Vargas, a Juarez native  and hopeful reformer who
nonetheless returns to El Paso  each night.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said  Washington has made
contingency plans to bolster U.S.  border defenses if gangsters seize
control of a city  such as Juarez.

And former U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey recently  warned that Mexico
faces becoming a "narco state." U.S.  military planners have
hypothesized that Mexico and  Pakistan pose the greatest risk of
sudden collapse.

Mexican officials have dismissed such talk as  overblown.

"We are putting the house in order," Calderon said in a  recent
speech. "Mexico has political stability."

True enough, perhaps. People still line up to pay their  taxes and
vote at election time. Public utilities work  much of the time. Police
direct traffic, patrol  neighborhoods. Most of Mexico - and even much
of Juarez  - functions peacefully. But some fundamentals have gone
dangerously awry.

International trade has built Juarez's new highways,  office towers
and gated suburbs. But too many of the  city's people watch that
progress with their noses  pressed to a window. Factory jobs start at
less than  $50 a week, and even that work is dwindling amid the
global recession.

Criminal enterprise - selling narcotics in the  neighborhoods or
helping to smuggle drugs to U.S.  consumers - pays far more.

Thousands of young men belong to the 500 street gangs  that police
estimate operate in Juarez. The gangs ally  with the larger drug
syndicates and battle one another  for turf.

"The young don't have any long-range plans," said  sociologist Julia
Monarrez, who studies the gender  factors of Juarez's violence, which
has also claimed  nearly 600 women since the early 1990s. "They are

But amid the violence here, many Juarez residents with  the money and
U.S. visas have slipped across the Rio  Grande to El Paso.

As for those who remain, they shut themselves inside  after

"In a micro sense," Vargas said, "Juarez is a failed  state."
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