TOPICS > Politics

Turf Battles in Mexican City Prompt Policing Changes

BY Max Brett  April 9, 2010 at 12:30 PM EDT

Crime scene in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Photo Credit: Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

The Mexican Public Security Secretariat took over policing in Ciudad Juarez on Thursday as part of a shift in strategy — the federal government’s third in less than two years — to quell persistent violence in the border city.

Five thousand federal police will replace the exiting Mexican army, which some say had little success in reining in the cartels that operate in Juarez during its years in charge of the city’s security. Those federal Public Security Secretariat police will supplement a force of 2,500 municipal police.

Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz told several Mexican media outlets on Wednesday that the city would now have a “policing solution.”

The army had taken over for a local police force widely seen as corrupt. But the use of the Mexican army as the chief policing force in Juarez had riled critics, who said the influx of troops led to torture and extrajudicial killings, as well as human rights violations.

Maureen Meyer, an associate for Mexico and Central America with the Washington Office on Latin America, said that over an 18-month period, the Chihuahua Human Rights Commission received 13,000 complaints against the military. According to Meyer, who spoke at a New America Foundation conference about Mexico on Wednesday, there has been only one conviction of a Mexican soldier. The city of Juarez is in the state of Chihuahua.

A turf battle in Juarez between the Sinaloa cartel and “La Linea,” an enforcement arm of the hometown cartel, led to more than 2,000 deaths last year. When three people associated with the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez were gunned down on March 13, attention was once again fixed on one of the frontlines of Mexico’s large-scale offensive against powerful drug organizations.

“There is a growing sense of fatigue in the city,” said Alfredo Corchado, a correspondent on the border for The Dallas Morning News, at Wednesday’s event. “[Citizens] have been at this for three decades.”

Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan said the offensive was brought against the cartels because the drug trade was corrupting local governments and institutions, a point echoed by Tim Golden, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.

“Mexico’s drug problem is less about the flow of drugs [than] with the degradation of the criminal justice system,” Golden said. “It is harder and harder to get justice for any crime” because of the involvement of the infiltration of criminal groups in every aspect of some border cities, he said.

Corchado noted the cartel activities were altering Juarez’s residential and business landscape. Around 116,000 homes in Juarez have been abandoned and many local businesses have shuttered or moved to El Paso.