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Mexican Government Struggles to Contain Drug War Violence

  • David Dyar

In the border city of Juarez, Mexico, authorities continue to investigate the murder of three people with connections to the US consulate that occurred on the streets of that city in broad daylight Saturday. Many observers on both sides of the border, however, question the Mexican government's ability to solve such cases as the violence continues to rage out of control.

In his third visit to the embattled city of Juarez in recent weeks, Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday spoke of the need for U.S. cooperation in the investigation of criminal violence on the border.

He said U.S. and Mexican authorities should cooperate, each on their respective sides of the border, and he called on the United States to curb gun smuggling and drug consumption in order to weaken the power of the drug trafficking groups.

But many citizens of Juarez are demanding more of their own government. Hundreds of protesters greeted Calderon in Juarez, condemning him for failing to curb the border violence. Mexican news media have shown graphic scenes of bodies lying in the streets and the cries of people who have lost loved ones.

One woman whose husband was murdered blamed President Calderon for the violence that began to soar after he started his drive against drug cartels upon assuming office in December, 2006.

The Mexican government recently claimed that the murder rate has fallen 40 percent in Juarez, but local citizens' groups dispute that, noting that close to 500 people have been killed there since the start of this year. Around 2,600 people died violently in Juarez last year and it is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

Across the Rio Grande River, which forms the boundary with the United States, sits the relatively quiet and peaceful city of El Paso, Texas. At the University of Texas in El Paso, Anthropologist Howard Campbell keeps a close watch on the Juarez violence and sympathizes with citizens there who express frustration with their government.

"There is no way to put a pretty face on this. The Mexican government is failing to protect its own citizens and in the most blatant way is in Juarez. We are talking about two years and almost three months now of constant killings, day after day," he said.

The United States is assisting the Mexican government's war on drug trafficking groups through the Merida Initiative, which has provided more than $300 million in support to Mexico's police and military in the past three years. But Campbell says that aid may not be effective absent deep reforms in the Mexican system.

"A lot of people are arguing that what we really need to do is to help Mexico fix its judicial system and police system and the military, so that these institutions are accountable and do the job, the job they are supposed to do and protect the common people instead of preying on them. That is not an easy thing to do because Mexico is a sovereign nation and the United States cannot tell Mexico what to do. But I think just giving Mexico money and military hardware in the past has not solved the problem, so I do not think that should be the one answer," he said.

Meanwhile, investigators continue their probe of Saturday's killing of two U.S. citizens, one of whom worked at the US consulate, and a Mexican man whose wife worked at the consulate. U.S. law enforcement agents say there is no evidence indicating the victims were targeted because of their connections with the consulate, saying it might have been a case of mistaken identity. If so, it would not be the first time gunmen in Juarez have killed people by mistake.

Gunmen for two rival cartels are battling for control of lucrative drug smuggling routes in the Juarez-El Paso area and are often indiscriminate when they spray bullets into vehicles, homes and businesses in Juarez. What many Mexican citizens and law enforcement experts question, however, is how such murders can take place in broad daylight in downtown Juarez, where hundreds of Mexican soldiers and police are on constant patrol. If the murder of the three people associated with the consulate is ever solved it will also be a rarity. In Juarez, 96 percent of killings remain unsolved.