Pubdate: Mon, 15 Jun 2009
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Company
Author: William Booth, Washington Post Foreign Service
Bookmark: (Treatment)


CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -- The patients at the Life Without Addictions 
drug rehabilitation center here were bunking down in their grim, gray 
dormitory two weeks ago when a group of gunmen burst in and opened 
fire. The attack left five addicts dead.

On Saturday afternoon, a young man reluctantly opened the gated door. 
He said that the center was closed for good and that he didn't know 
who the killers were or why they had come. He pointed to a spot on 
the floor next to the grimy sofa and the faded image of the Virgin of 
Guadalupe. It was blood.

"That is where my uncle died," he said. His uncle was 36-year-old 
Jesus Ignacio Palma.

Assailants have been targeting addicts in Ciudad Juarez for the past 
year. In August, eight men were killed and five wounded by unknown 
attackers as they gathered for prayer at a treatment facility in this 
border city. Last week, a man was executed at a third rehabilitation center.

No one knows why the drug addicts have strayed into the crosshairs 
here. One reason for the mystery is that few homicides are ever 
solved in Ciudad Juarez. The addicts, counselors and police say they 
suspect that patients may owe money to dealers or work for competing 
gangs or have stolen drugs they were hired to carry across the river 
to El Paso.

"Many people sell drugs during the day and sleep at the centers 
during the night. That's the problem. Their troubles come home with 
them," said Victor Silerio, a former heroin addict who now runs the 
Cre Cavi treatment center, one of the few that do not let patients 
freely come and go.

The killing of drug addicts is the latest outrage for the citizens of 
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's most violent city. According to tallies kept 
by local news media, about 700 people have been killed here this year.

Sergio Belmonte Almeida, a municipal government spokesman, said many 
more addicts are shot on the streets -- killed with handguns at close 
range -- in crimes that are rarely solved. Belmonte said the military 
tells him the deaths are the result of disputes over drug sales.

There was a brief lull in the slaughter earlier this year after 
President Felipe Calderon sent 10,000 soldiers and federal agents to 
occupy the city and take over the municipal police force. In February 
and March, there were days when no one was slain in Ciudad Juarez, 
but now a dozen people are found dead every day.

For many years, Mexico was a country where drugs were produced or 
trafficked. Now it is also becoming a consuming nation, like its 
voracious neighbor to the north, and government officials see the 
border city of Ciudad Juarez, with its large population of drug 
users, as a version of the future they do not want.

Silerio said that since the attacks on addicts began last year, at 
least seven treatment centers have shuttered after receiving threats 
or warnings from local drug gangs -- leaving 25 facilities still open.

"Thank God for this place and these people who are here to help," 
said Miguel Rocha Romero, 29, who entered Silerio's residence program 
three months ago. Rocha said he was a heroin addict for nine years -- 
while he was in prison.

Guadalupe Martinez, 40, said he has been a heroin addict all of his 
adult life. He left a rehabilitation center three months ago after it 
closed because of threats.

"We got a telephone threat saying we'd all be killed if we didn't 
close," he said. "Everybody's in the street because all the centers 
are closing."

Martinez fights for his fix by begging for money below the 
international bridge that connects Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, where 
each day thousands of people stand in line for hours to walk into the 
United States.

As they wait, Martinez stands in the riverbed and shouts for dollars 
and pesos, and the crowds, bored, throw the money down. They laugh as 
Martinez and other homeless alcoholics and drug addicts chase the 
fluttering bills.

"I've been trying to stop taking drugs, to live in peace without 
drugs and to start a new life," Martinez said. But he would not quit 
now, he added. When he finally gets together 100 pesos, or about $8, 
he's going to buy a dose and get high. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake