Sunday, May 23, 2010

Ciudad Juárez, Mexico: The world's most dangerous place?
A drug war has turned Ciudad Juárez into a bloodbath. What’s worse, the addition of thousands of police and soldiers has only made the Mexican city more lawless.
CIUDAD JUÁREZ , MEXICO—The light is falling, the heat is letting up and gunmen have arrived at the modest house with the concrete front yard where there is a birthday party going on. With quiet efficiency they approach the painted wrought iron gates and begin spraying the adults with bullets. Three men crumple to the ground, dead. Two others succumb later in hospital.
The evening has begun with a massacre, but it’s still early.
A couple hours later, a man will be lying in a semi-fetal position, dumped at the side of the road opposite a used car lot, his blank eyes still open, his head in a pool of blood. Just down the road, another man will be shot dead inside a convenience store.
By the end of the night, there will be 10 killings in Juárez. The next day, 13. The day after that, 22.
Juarez, a city of 1.3 million hugging the border with El Paso, Tex., may now be the most dangerous place in the world — riskier even than Baghdad or Kandahar. This isn’t the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, or Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince, pockets of danger in a larger whole. In Juárez, it’s everywhere. Here, death is like a Whac-A-Mole game, constantly rearing its head.
A corpse hangs from an overpass. Another floats in the Rio Grande. A man’s body slumps in his driver’s seat, his severed head resting on the hood.
It happens in store parking lots in broad daylight. In funeral parlours, homes, businesses, nightclubs.
And though there are now around 10,000 police and soldiers in the city, the average person remains utterly unprotected.
The cause is a vicious turf battle between two powerful drug cartels, and the war President Felipe Calderón has launched, with U.S. backing, against them.
The main result so far? Escalating violence. Some are now calling this an epic failure of policy. “Even if they reduce the flow of drugs, it will come at what cost?” asks one Juárez journalist. “Tens of thousands dead?”
Driving across the short, unadorned bridge from El Paso and into dusty Ciudad Juárez is immediately jarring. One of the first things I notice is a sandbag fortification in front of an aging hotel, behind which is a federal police officer in full armour and helmet, peering out from behind a machine gun. I stop the car. A taxi driver warns me that my rental with its out-of-town plates is a target.
Since Mexican President Felipe Calderón took office in December, 2006, there have been about 23,000 drug-related deaths across the country. The most murderous city has since become Juárez. Some comparisons from 2009:
Toronto: 62 murders
Juárez: 2,660
Baghdad: 1,545 deaths (with a population five times larger than that of Juárez)
Afghanistan: 2,412 civilian deaths and 520 coalition military deaths for the entire country (population 29 million).
Sources: UNAMA, Iraq Body Count,
The gangs of Juárez
Juárez cartel: Led by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, this cartel has long ruled these parts. For enforcement, it uses La Linea, which took responsibility for the recent slaughter of seven police, and the Barrio Aztecas, who got their start in the Texas prison system.
Sinaloa cartel: Led by the notorious Joaquin (El Chapo) Guzman, in recent years it has encroached on Juárez territory, seeking to control the most lucrative transport corridor to the U.S. and Canada. Guzman, who was arrested years ago but claimed to be a simple farmer, is still believed to still be living in the lush Sinaloa state to the southwest, some say openly with the protection of authorities.