Originally published at
Juarez, Mexico, a stone’s throw from El Paso, Texas represents an important business center for the United States, supplying dozens of U.S. companies with auto parts, electronics and other manufactured goods. But the city is under siege, a fact acknowledged by the Obama Administration, which is crafting contingency plans to send the National Guard to the border if conditions deteriorate further.
Homeland Security’s Operations Director told Congress last week that National Guard troops will be sent to the border only as a “last resort” to combat threats from Mexico’s drug cartels. The cartels have publicly targeted politicians and police from the federal to the local level.
Take Juárez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz. He now travels in an armed convoy whenever he leaves City Hall.
Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz: “I’m not thinking about the threats. I think about what needs to be done in my city and I do it.”
Mayor Reyes is getting help for his city of one-point-three million people. The Mexican Army’s in town. It took over after the Juárez Cartel killed several high-ranking police officers 2 weeks ago. They threatened to kill more every few days until the chief quit. He did. Army reinforcements then arrived, more are coming and a retired general and a colonel have taken control of the police. The militarization may be working: after a spike last month, the killings in Juárez have dropped dramatically. But the mayor says there’s still one murder every day.
Ferriz: “We need the Mexican Army to come into the police force while we recruit new officers…
Matalon: “You mean clean the force of corruption.”
Ferriz: “We need to clean the force of corruption & we’ve been doing that.”
Later at a meeting of Mexican border state governors and the Army, Reyes dismissed the notion he lost control of the city when the cartels forced his police chief to leave.
Ferriz : “Sometimes in war you make you make a strategic withdrawal. But you don’t lose unless the opponent takes over the land you withdrew from. And the fact that Army officials are taking over the position of Chief of Police states very clearly that we’re NOT giving in.”
Governor Baeza Terrazas: “Tengamos una acion muchas mas clara, definida, contundente por parte del gobierno norteamericano…”Despite the threats, Reyes is visiting crime-ridden barrios to show residents he won’t surrender to the cartels. On this visit he was joined by the governor of Chihuahua State Baeza Terrazas. Last month, gunmen in 2 cars fired high-powered weapons on a convoy carrying the Governor, killing his bodyguard and wounding 2 others. The Governor says the Juárez Cartel, using weapons smuggled into Mexico from the U.S. is responsible. And like the Mayor, Baeza Terrazas says the U.S. must stop weapons smuggling.
He said, “We need firm action by the U.S. to stop the trafficking of weapons which is spilling Mexican blood. We are fighting a war generated by the demand for drugs on the other side of the border, and we are outgunned.”
Mexican soldiers stood guard at event. They and the politicians were welcomed, but as the crowd broke up, citizens such as Rodrigo Rocha complained about Army human rights abuses, acknowledged by Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon, who has ordered human rights training for the Army.
Rodrigo Rocha: “And they don’t even know how to treat people here. Human rights? They go up to you & tell you, “Stop!” And you have to stop because they’re going to hurt you. Just listen to them because if you don’t, they’re going to hurt you a lot.”
Citizens of Juárez and other border cities are nervous. President Calderon says “there will be no retreat,” but the Army’s deployment has undone the decades-old unspoken understanding between the cartels and civil authorities to leave each other alone. Wherever the Army has gone, violence is up and includes… killings of innocent civilians by both the Army AND the cartels.
Jessica Pena is a sociologist at Juárez Autonomous University, which has begun human rights training for soldiers.
Jessica Pena: “We feel it’s an emergency situation at times. But we don’t know how to react to it. So we feel like we’re living in a movie. But we don’t how this movie’s going to end.”
“Que buscas? Armas y dolares.”
A soldier stops a car and says, “I’m looking for weapons and cash.” Statistically, Juárez is Mexico’s foremost flashpoint in the country’s stalemate with the cartels.
Felipe Calderon says he’s encouraged the Obama Administration is pledging resources for border security; something Washington and Mexico agree is in BOTH nations’ interest. Drugs and its accompanying violence have already spilled over into the U.S. – affecting nearby cities like Phoenix, and stretching as far away as Atlanta.