Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin
American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces,New
From Narco War to War of Extermination
While El Pasoans celebrate the festive Labor Day weekend with barbeques and
brews, residents of neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, will attend mass
wakes and funerals. The slaughter of 18 men at the Casa El Aliviane drug
rehabilitation center September 2 pushed the murder toll in the Mexican
border city to around 1500 for the year so far.
Only days before the massacre, the Mexico City-based Citizen Council for
Public Safety (CCSP), released statistics that showed Ciudad Juarez was the
most violent city in the world, registering 130 killings per 100,000 people;
since January 2008, more than 3,000 people have been murdered in the Mexican
border city. The only comparable violence in Ciudad Juarez's history
occurred during the 1910 Mexican Revolution, when the city was the scene of
several pitched battles.
"A murder victim every hour," read a recent headline in the local press. A
more upbeat story commented how the day began in relative calm with "two
executions at midnight and a wounded bullet victim" by the morning.
More than 320 people were murdered in Ciudad Juarez and the nearby Juarez
Valley during the month of August, now regarded as the most violent in the
Thursday evening's killing, which was carried out by four heavily armed men
who lined up presumed crack addicts and shot them El Salvador
1980-style, was the latest indication that Mexico's narco violence has taken
a qualitative leap (or descent) from a struggle for control of drug routes
and markets to a generalized war of extermination against anyone deemed a
rival or potential rival. Press reports tied the victims to the Juarez
Cartel-allied Aztecas gang, but one man who preferred to remain anonymous
told a local reporter that other individuals who were genuinely seeking
treatment were among the victims.
Chihuahua State Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez said a war without
quarter between local criminal gangs was the reason for the El Aliviane
"These are really terrorist acts that attempt to intimidate the population
and acts that are intended, within the criminal groups, to exterminate
rivals.," Gonzalez said.
Although Gonzalez pointed to Ciudad Juarez's proximity to the US consumer
culture, the massacre at the El Aliviane drug rehab center was more proof
that much of the recent bloodletting has more to do with domination of the
local drug economy than export sales to the United States, as is frequently
portrayed by Washington and the US press.
Opposition Chihuahua state lawmaker Victor Quintana of the PRD party
demanded that authorities clarify the massacre, as well as previous ones at
other drug clinics.
"We can't allow the State and society to view these types of massacres as
part of the normal routine," Quintana said. "Significant, urgent, focused
and committed actions are needed from the three levels of government to
render public accountability on what is happening to society and to
establish time-lines to end the terror in Chihuahua."
For his part, Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz declared "panic buttons"
will be installed in drug rehabilitation centers.
A Sea Change in the Narco War
In the "Good Old Days" of Mexico's narco-economy, killings were
strategically directed at high or mid-level operators, as well as
lower-ranking individuals who were suspected of informing to the police,
ripping off bosses or bungling loads. But in addition to the men killed at
the El Aliviane clinic, numerous victims in Ciudad Juarez this year could
only be classified as "little people" in the bigger scheme of things.
Large numbers of suspected retail drug dealers, addicts, street vendors and
clowns, construction laborers, and others who could not by any stretch of
the imagination be considered even middle-level players have fallen to
bullets this year. From January 2008 to early August 2009, at least 132
people below 18 years of age were murdered. Another 15 people slain
traveling to or from work are believed to have been innocent victims caught
With more than 130,000 people involved in Ciudad Juarez's illegal drug
market, the list of potential victims looms large.
To the immediate south of Ciudad Juarez, a valley that once nourished
indigenous cultures and later gained international fame as a top-rate cotton
producer has now earned the nickname "The Valley of Death" in the Mexican
Selective killings have turned into attacks against entire families, with
some homes burned down. Hundreds of families have reportedly fled the
All this has occurred under the noses of nearly 10,000 Mexican army troops
and federal police officially deployed to curb violence. Despite the recent
arrests of several suspected hit men accused of hundreds of murders,
killings continue unabated. The day after the El Aliviane massacre, a man
was chased on foot and shot to death before the eyes of hundreds of
witnesses in a downtown market located, again, in a place usually teeming
with police and soldiers.
The big honchos of the drug trade, meanwhile, remain free.
The late, legendary narco-lawyer Raquenel Villanueva, who survived numerous
bullets and explosions before she was finally gunned down in Monterrey last
month, lamented the breakdown of longtime criminal codes in an interview
published not long before her death. The one time defender of drug lords
blamed the rising consumption of illegal substances in Mexico for the loss
of "values" in the business.
A Nationwide Social Cleansing?
As the body count mounts, the violence increasingly resembles the "social
cleansing" carried out by death squads in Honduras, Brazil and other Latin
In Ciudad Juarez, many killings have occurred in the downtown area
frequented by drug dealers and addicts but also slated for redevelopment
under the Santa Fe Plaza project involving magnate Carlos Slim and other
investors. The El Aliviane clinic is located in the rough Bellavista
neighborhood next to downtown and only blocks from the pedestrian crossing
to El Paso.
Whether intentional or not, the murder of longtime, activist street vendor
leader Geminis Ochoa earlier this year removed one possible thorn in the
side of developers or others with the mind of controlling downtown Ciudad
In the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa, meanwhile, at least 38 murders this
year of suspected highwaymen and car robbers have been attributed to a
shadowy group that leaves threatening messages against thieves. The murder
spree coincided with the beginning of a special police operation against
To one degree or another, the patterns of violence in Chihuahua and Sinaloa
are present elsewhere in the Mexican Republic. Decapitations, body
mutilations and "crucifixions" are the flesh and blood signposts of violence
that's claimed somewhere between 12,000-14,000 lives since President Felipe
Calderon took office in December 2006.
US Department of Homeland Security border czar Alan Bersin was recently
quoted as saying that it might take Mexico 30 or 40 years to get a handle on
the narco-fanned violence. Given that hundreds of thousands of people are
immersed in the business, the eventual toll of such a conflict could easily
take more than 100,000 lives if current rates of violence continue. And
that's a simple projection not taking into account the unpredictable
consequences of cross-generational revenge, possible regional conflicts and
other unforeseen mutations that could evolve from the current spate of
Under present circumstances, slain street dealers and other low-level
operators are quickly replaced. At a seminar in Mexico City last week, the
citizen council of the Office of the Federal Attorney General revealed that
the economic crisis was sending at least 300,000 additional young people
into the ranks of the narco. Marcos Fastlight, council president, contended
that organized crime controls 65 percent of Mexico's municipal
administrations, which govern between 40 and 50 million people.
Other Possible Consequences of a Violent Breakdown
In a context of spiraling violence and wanton murder, many manifestations of
meanness are taking hold among sectors of the population. In Tijuana last
week, 15 "indigents," including two individuals in wheel chairs and a
one-legged woman, were loaded aboard a police vehicle and unceremoniously
dumped in the city of Tecate. After news of the El Aliviane massacre
flashed, cyberwriters took to the Internet. An e-mail sent to Mexico City
daily La Jornada cheered the killings of "cholos" and other undesirables.
Witnesses to the murder of seven men and one woman at Ciudad Juarez's Seven
and Seven bar last month reported seeing gunmen laugh and then mill around
the parking lot for 10 minutes after completing their dirty work, while
calls to the emergency operator went unanswered.
As the brutality of the narco war escalates, so goes the political and civic
In August, two prominent social activists, bank debtors' leader Maximiano
Barbosa and Sinaloa Civic Front leader Salomon Monarrez were shot and
wounded in Jalisco and Sinaloa, respectively, while the president of the
Guerrero State Congress, PRD leader Armando Chavarria, was assassinated.
Chavarria was a former state secretary for the administration of Governor
Zeferino Torreblanca, and considered a leading candidate for the
governorship in the 2011 election. Like Chihuahua, Guerrero is a politically
strategic place for the underworld. This summer also saw the murder of
Guerrero journalist Juan Daniel Martinez Gil.
Routinely, the Mexico City-based Center for Journalism and Public Ethics
zaps out communiqués that detail new instances of violence and intimidation
against journalists. Most of the denunciations identify government officials
as the responsible parties for the attacks against the press. In one of the
latest incidents, El Diario de Juarez photographer Silvestre Juarez was
allegedly roughed up by Chihuahua state police officers while attempting to
cover a protest by Ciudad Juarez resident Rita Lozoya, who stripped down to
her bra and panties in protest of her son's murder.
Ultimately, the next victim of the narco war-plus could well be Mexico's
much-heralded transition to democracy.
Additional sources: Norte August 7 and 14, 2009; September 3 and 4, 2009.
Articles by Herika Martinez Prado, Luis Carlos Ortega, Carlos Huerta, and
Nohemi Barraza. El Paso Times, August 17 and September 4, 2009. Articles by
Daniel Borunda and Stephanie Sanchez. El Sur/Agencia Reforma, September 1,
2009. Lapolaka.com, July 28, 2009; August 5, 6, 10, 14, 17,
18, 29, 2009; September 1, 2, 3, 4, 2009; La Jornada, August 9, 26 and 31,
2009; September 3, 2009 Articles by Javier Valdez Cardenas, Miroslava
Breach, AFP, and Notimex.
El Universal, August 11, 16, 29, 31, 2009. September 1 and 3, 2009. Articles
by Juan Alberto Cedillo, Silvia Otero, Javier Cabrera, Julieta Martinez,
Luis Carlos Cano, Noemi Gutierrez, and editorial staff. El Diario de Juarez,
August 18 and 31, 2009; September 1 and 3, 2009. Articles by Gabriel
Simental and editorial staff. Proceso/Apro, July 29, 2009.