Violent crime continues to plague Mexico in spite of government efforts to fight drug smugglers, kidnappers and other organized crime groups. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, some border towns have become open battlegrounds and citizens in some areas are taking the law into their own hands.
Shootings have become an almost daily occurrence in some Mexican cities along the US border. In Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas, gunmen are now threatening the Red Cross workers who come to the aid of shooting victims. Red Cross spokesmen say they had to suspend emergency operations after someone called them on their own radio frequency and threatened to kill rescue workers who came to the scene of a shooting.
Violence has claimed more than 780 people in the border city of about 1.3 million people so far this year. Most of the shootings result from turf wars between rival gangs, but some of the violence is directed at government police forces trying to stem the tide of crime.
Meantime, in Mexico City Thursday, governors from Mexico's 32 states, federal representatives and citizens' group leaders came together for an anti-crime summit. Government leaders have been scrambling in recent weeks to respond to outraged citizens fed up with the crime situation.
Ricardo Gonzalez Sada, who represents the business group COPARMEX, says much of the problem is the result of official corruption.
He says Mexico needs to end the corruption that exists in the police forces and completely overhaul its judicial system.
The crime that roused the passions of Mexican citizens to take action occurred a few weeks ago when kidnappers murder a 14-year-old boy even though his wealthy father had paid the ransom. This was only one of many recent cases in which kidnap victims have been mutilated, tortured and killed.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has called for tougher sentences, including life in prison for certain categories of kidnapping. Other politicians have called for the death penalty. But critics say those measures are unlikely to help as long as police are either too corrupt or inept to solve the crimes.
According to the Mexican Attorney General's office, kidnappings are up more than nine percent this year, averaging 65 per month nationwide, but independent groups say the actual number is much higher. Many victims never report the crime because police are often the ones doing the kidnapping.
In one town near Mexico City this week a crowd of over 100 people savagely beat two men whom they suspected of being criminals engaged in kidnapping. Local authorities managed to rescue them from the mob and handed them over to state police.
Citizens groups are planning a march in Mexico City and other large cities for August 30. One of the organizers, Elias Kuri, warns politicians not to exploit the march for their own political ends.
He says this is a citizens' movement and that government officials should assume their responsibilities to do something about crime.
As Mexicans react to news from international organizations that their country is now considered worse than Iraq and Colombia for kidnappings, government leaders are focusing more attention on the issue. Interior Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino says the public has a right to be angry and he worries that if the government does not take effective action soon, vigilantism will grow, something that he says will only make the problem worse.