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Less murder along the drug superhighway

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 11th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Times have changed for the better in Juarez, Mexico. A year-and-a-half ago, drug violence was rampant on the streets. Now, it has abated, somewhat, and residents are relieved. Now, the world is trying to determine why the violence has decreased, and if there's a formula to easing the troubles that plague the Mexican people.

EL PASO, TX (Catholic Online) - Just over the border to the south, is the city of Juarez, Mexico. In 2009, the city was dubbed the murder capital of the country. Now, that dubious distinction appears unmerited as the rampant violence has subsided. 

Between 2009 and early 2011, was a grisly time for residents. Shootouts were so common that people continued to go about their business as gangsters murdered one another just yards away.

Newspapers were filled with images of the dead, mangled, often decapitated bodies that were normally left on public display by their assassins. And small business owners were paying much of their profits to gangs as part of various protection rackets, or they were being burned down. 

At that time, the Mexican government initiated a crack-down on the gangs, involving the military and federal police. The tactics were wholeheartedly endorsed by the US and turned the streets of Juarez into something akin to an occupied city. But that strategy failed to quell the violence. 

The Juarez and Sinaloa cartels continued their bloody turf war over one of the narcotics superhighways running into the US, where demand has been rampant. It's US demand that's the root cause of nearly all of the violence. Sadly, that demand remains relatively unchanged. 

In the first six months of 2010, gangs reportedly killed a 1,642 people. In the first six months of 2011, there were "only" 952 murders. 

So why the change?

Changes came in early 2011, as Juarez officials appointed s new police chief to head up their department. Julian Leyzaola, the former chief of Tijuana, took a strong approach to the gangs. Leyzaola immediately clashed with the federal police, who residents claim were joining the gangs in corruption and shakedowns, patrolling the streets by day and extorting money at night. 

Leyzaola's clashes led to federal police firing on his convoy in July 2011. 

That incident caused city officials to pressure the government to remove the federal police, and they left the city in October 2011. 

Leyzaola has replaced them with local police. And while the local police has an unfortunate reputation for ineptitude, the people still prefer them and feel safer dealing with them. 

The next step was to rescue the small businesses that were being extorted of their profits. When police tackled the problem they learned the cartels weren't behind this activity so much as small, organized gangs that were taking advantage of the rampant crime, knowing they would not be pursued since police were occupied with murders. 

Fortunately, it was relatively easy to shut down most of the extortion activities. Now businesses have returned to Juarez and residents are enjoying themselves once again. 

But perhaps the most significant change that has reduced the violence has to do with the cartels themselves. According to authorities, the Sinaloa cartel now has the upper hand in Juarez and has consolidated some control over the routes. This means less cause for violence. Also, both gangs are using more of their own operatives to conduct missions as opposed to outsourcing dirty work to local gangs, which can be sloppy and unreliable. This should not be construed as a positive development so much as another reason why the people of Juarez are facing less violence now. 

Still, the cartels are present. Speeding convoys of unmarked SUVs crisscross the city and freeways while newspapers still show images of the latest victims. And some believe the entire effect to be an illusion, saying the violence has merely left the city for more rural areas where there are fewer eyes and more freedom of movement. 

No matter the cause, the people of Juarez are getting a break, at least for now.

 

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