Juarez Drug Wars

LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: This war zone is not in some far off country. It’s just across the border from El Paso, Texas, in Juarez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

FATHER KEVIN MULLINS (Parish of Corpus Christi): There was a 47-year-old man here with four bullets in his head, so we stopped in order to give the last rites, as they used to say.

SEVERSON: Since Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, declared war on the drug cartels four years ago, almost 5,000 citizens have been murdered in Juarez alone. Father Kevin Mullins knows. He’s officiated at too many funerals.

FATHER MULLINS: We’ve experienced 38, 40 executions just in this one parish here.

SEVERSON: Next to the statute of the Virgin Mary on a hill overlooking Juarez, there’s a cross. It’s riddled with bullet holes. No one, not even priests in the world’s second largest Catholic country, feels safe anymore.

Father Kevin Mullins

FATHER MULLINS: When I leave in the morning and go out in the truck, once upon a time I wouldn’t think twice about it, but now because of these executions and because of the stray bullets, I’d say, “Lord, protect me, take care of me.” Then I’ll go out.

SEVERSON: The violence has spread throughout Mexico, but Juarez has been particularly hard hit because it’s a major conduit for illegal drugs passing from Mexico into the United States. It’s become a bloody battleground as cartels fighting for the huge amounts of money involved murder each other and innocent civilians.

RUBEN GARCIA (Director, Annunciation House): It is a city that has real fear, a lot of it unpredictable, a lot of it you can’t put your finger on it, but its certainly something with which people live on a daily basis.

SEVERSON: Ruben Garcia runs Annunciation House, a halfway house for indigent migrants across the border in El Paso. Some who cross over to escape the violence come here. But most, like these folks who belong to Father Mullin’s parish, are stuck in Juarez, worried first about their kids and grandkids, worried about stray bullets.

Leo says he’s heard that teachers have been threatened that their students will be hurt if the teachers don’t pay extortion money. Four of Ezikial’s extended family have been victims.

FATHER MULLINS (translating for Ezikial): So the mother and the son were killed just before Christmas outside the old US consulate, and the week before a nephew had also been executed outside the church in San Marcos.

SEVERSON: When Juan Pablo refused to use his market as a drop-off location for suspicious packages, he was told his two kids would be killed. So the family quietly and quickly moved to another city and then quietly returned.

post02-juarezYesterday there were 13 executions here in Juarez, the day before 19. Two of those were decapitations. Even more striking than the number of murders is the gruesome way they have been carried out. Almost every day, the one-and-a-half-million residents of Juarez are exposed to horrific news stories of unthinkable violence. A mere shooting hardly gets any attention.

FATHER MULLINS: Shooting people is always terrible, but when they dismember them or when they strangle them with barbed wire, it’s horrific, the results. Or decapitation is fairly big around here.

Mario was stoned to death down below there. You see the cross. A gentleman called Lalo was stoned to death up this gully.

SEVERSON: Father Mullins says it’s as if Juarez has become Satan’s stomping ground.

(speaking to Father Mullins): You’re not willing to concede?

FATHER MULLINS: Not yet, no, because I think it’s evident from the scriptures, and also from history, that the good overcomes evil.

SEVERSON: Most everyone agrees that one reason so many people are enticed by all the drug money is that so few here have jobs. Because of the violence, tourism has dried up, and more than 6,000 businesses have closed, leaving tens of thousands unemployed. For many, the only alternative is illegal and dangerous.

GARCIA: If I have no work, and I’m not eating, and my children are not eating, and along comes someone and finds a way for me to start feeding my kids, I’m going to be grateful for that person. If you come and you say, “Did you know that person is a notorious drug dealer?” I’m going to look at you and say, “You know what? My kids are eating.”

post05-juarezSEVERSON: One of the biggest problems in Mexico is a lack of trust in anything to do with the government—politicians, police, the army, you name it.

FATHER MULLINS: Of every 618 executions, 20 are investigated.

SEVERSON: Only investigated. Not even solved, but just investigated?

FATHER MULLINS: Twenty out of 618, so any talk of investigations is really a joke.

GARCIA: The corruption that is affecting Mexico is very, very pervasive. It includes most of Mexico’s institutions to a level that would probably be mind boggling to the average citizen in the United States. What would it mean for the average US citizen to wake up and to realize I cannot call my police department because I cannot trust my police?

SEVERSON: One institution that Mexican people have always had faith in is the Catholic Church, in part because almost 90 percent of the over 142 million citizens are Catholic. But even trust in the church appears to be eroding. Estellita, a mother of 10, says the church has not done enough to fight the cartels .

(speaking to Senora Estella): You mean the church has done nothing?


FATHER MULLINS: Senora Estella says the Catholic Church has been a little bit sleepy. They could have done a lot more.

GARCIA: I think the church in Mexico has been hurt by its hesitancy and its silence. Its willingness to be prophetic, to be outspoken, to speak the truth, I think, would enhance its credibility.

post04-juarezSEVERSON: Garcia and many others in Mexico feel that for the Catholic Church to speak the truth it has to confront the drug cartels head on.

FATHER MULLINS: I think maybe the bishops could be more vocal.

SEVERSON: But it’s dangerous.

FATHER MULLINS: It could be dangerous, yes, but that element of danger is also part of if you want to live a Christian life then in a situation like this there could be an element, a modicum of danger from time to time.

SEVERSON: The Mexican Council of Bishops estimates that about two out of every 10 priests face serious risks for speaking against drug traffickers. One has been killed, dozens transferred for their own safety. The rest are looking over their shoulders.

FATHER MULLINS: And I got a call from one of my colleagues, a Mexican priest here, and he called up and said, “Kevin, Kevin is it you?” And I said, “Yeah, yeah it’s me.” And he said, “I’m so happy to hear your voice.” He said, “The radio said you were just assassinated in the street.” Some other priests had heard of this, and they prayed a Mass for the Dead for the dead priest, being me, on Christmas Eve, and they were pleased to see me the following week.

SEVERSON: And you were probably pleased to be there.

FATHER MULLINS: I was pleased to be there without the bullet holes, yes.

SEVERSON: After a long and conspicuous silence, in November 2009 the Mexican Bishops Conference publicly condemned narcotics traffickers and demanded that the country’s politicians crack down on corruption. The communiqué said the bishops intend to have a louder voice against the evils of illegal drug trafficking.

post06-juarezBut in individual churches the battle has already begun. When Father Mullins came here nine years ago, he could only count about 30 regular churchgoers. Take a look now.

FATHER MULLINS: I never cease to be amazed at the nobility of the people around here, not that that’s a surprise, but I just think people are so brave in Juarez. It’s a privilege for me to be a priest here.

SEVERSON: One reason his parish has grown so much is because he sent what few members he had to the neighborhoods offering the church as an alternative lifestyle to the drug culture. This is Eduardo Perez.

EDUARDO EALART PEREZ: We invite many people, we go to the streets and invite people, “Hey, come to our church.”

SEVERSON: So you think you cannot win the drug war without the church?

PEREZ: Yes, absolutely. I mean absolutely. I mean maybe without church, but not without God.

SEVERSON: The Catholic Church has a proud tradition of standing up for people who can’t defend themselves. Father Mullins and many others here believe that now is the time for the church to stand up to the drug cartels, regardless of the risks.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in Juarez, Mexico.

  • malcolm kyle

    I hope that Father Mullins now realizes that prohibition is a sickening horror, and that the ocean of human wreckage it has left in its wake is almost endless.

    Prohibition has decimated generations and criminalized millions for a behavior which is entwined in human existence, and for what other purpose than to uphold the defunct and corrupt thinking of a minority of misguided, self-righteous Neo-Puritans and degenerate demagogues who wish nothing but unadulterated destruction on the rest of us.

    Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation.

    By its very nature prohibition cannot fail but create a vast increase in criminal activity, and rather than preventing society from descending into anarchy, it actually fosters an anarchic business model – the international Drug Trade. Any decisions concerning quality, quantity, distribution and availability are then left in the hands of unregulated, anonymous, ruthless drug dealers, who are interested only in the huge profits involved.

    Many of us have now finally wised up to the fact that the best avenue towards realistically dealing with drug use and addiction is through proper regulation, which is what we already do with alcohol & tobacco –two of our most dangerous mood altering substances. But for those of you whose ignorant and irrational minds traverse a fantasy plane of existence, you will no doubt remain sorely upset with any type of solution that does not seem to lead to the absurd and unattainable utopia of a drug free society.

    There is an irrefutable connection between drug prohibition and the crime, corruption, disease and death it causes. If you are not capable of understanding this connection, then maybe you’re using something far stronger than the rest of us. Anybody ‘halfway bright’ and who’s not psychologically challenged, should be capable of understanding, that it is not simply the demand for drugs that creates the mayhem; it is our refusal to allow legal businesses to meet that demand.

    No amount of money, police powers, weaponry, diminution of rights and liberties, wishful thinking or pseudo-science will make our streets safer; only an end to prohibition can do that. How much longer are you willing to foolishly risk your own survival by continuing to ignore the obvious, historically confirmed solution?

    If you still support the kool aid mass suicide cult of prohibition, and erroneously believe that you can win a war without logic and practical solutions, then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, terrorism, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, foreclosed homes, and the complete loss of the rule of law and the Bill of Rights.

    “A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”
    Abraham Lincoln

    The only thing prohibition successfully does is prohibit regulation & taxation!

  • Jerry Kaye

    You can buy cars on every street corner in American yet; cars are stolen at a high rate. Legalizing drugs (marijuana) would not solve the violence in Mexico or the US.

    I personally do not believe that the ability to buy drugs at the corner cafe is going to reduce the market for illegal drugs nor do I believe that it will reduce the crime associated with supplying that market. Furthermore, I do not think regulating and taxing is going to help with the larger drug abuse issues with more dangerous drugs such as heroin. I’m sure you are not suggesting we legalize that are you? I would only see the cost of pot going down.
    Legalizing pot is not going to have Gomez sitting at home saying, ok, now what are we going to do?

    In my opinion, I believe that in the case of Mexico, there will have to be a major political party shift that ordains one cartel over the others eliminating the latter. Then, we would have to put real efforts into stopping the flow of drugs into the US while punishing users more swiftly and severely.

  • Patricia Kevin

    Fr. Mullins is a hero of our times. I have been to his parish that had only a handfull of people when he arrived. It is a church today filled with people of faith, people who care about each other. You can feel this spirt surround you as they celebrate weekly together. People like Fr. Kevin Mullins are truly doing Christ’s work every day . In the midst of the horror that these people live with they are an inspiration.Many of our clergy worldwide could follow Fr. Kevin’s example. He is of the people and for the people. Their love for him is easily evidenced in his parish. No people should have to live with such evil and stress. I don’t know if legalization of drugs in the US would change things in Juarez. I do know it’s time for all churches and governments to stand up and support these people. No death can be tolerated.

  • Chanel King

    The legalization of drugs? What a complete load of nonsense. Opening the floodgates on all types of wrongs but “regulating” them?? You can’t be serious.

    The US is the hand that feeds the drugs. If the US took any of the horror in Mexico seriously, it would prosecute drug offenders more heavily instead of the small fines and usually no jail time for first time offenders that is often the result. It would enact legislation that would make an offender think twice, increase jail time and really deal harshly with these criminals who keep the drug lords in business. No demand, no supply. How can anyone preach from their soapbox that we are all living in a fantasy if we refuse to accept anything but complete prohibition on drugs?? If something is wrong and the evil starts to win, do we shake hands and compromise with that evil because it all gets too much for us to handle??

    Drugs ruin lives. Drugs deform unborn children, cause mental illness, damage brain and bodies, destroys families, invokes crime, death, destruction the list goes on.

    History records the events of nations all over the world over many centuries that have fought against injustices. What would have happened if we never fought against racism, communism, slavery or any other other abhorrent evil that has sought to divide and control people? What if it got too hard and instead of fighting we laid down and accepted the injustice? When something is wrong it is wrong and no amount of concession can be tolerated, it simply must not be allowed and we must at least try to do everything in our power to defeat it.

    The comment by Abraham Lincoln is noted, however if he was alive today and questioned about that comment in relation to the situation in Mexico, I feel that he would not readily apply it to the drug situation nor do I think that he would suggest regulation as the solution to the drug war.

    I pray every day for ministers like Father Mullins who are in the front line and risking their lives to give hope to the hopeless. What should be our reasonable response in horrific times like these? Tell the people to wait it out while we sort out passing the bills to getting the problem “regulated”? What about the precious people that are caught in the middle? Do we turn our backs on them?

    We need to keep fighting and make the voice of righteousness heard. Even if that voice is silenced by death.

  • jramage

    have lived on this border (southern new mexico) for over 25 years.Worked for a trucking company for some of that time we shipped into the maquiladoras in juarez and tijuana and torreon and ciudad chihuahua and nuevo laredo.

    When i first came here people would pass through going north border control was very inconsistent.
    Mmany people would help those going to denver ,los angeles, chicago, would give pants or shirts to the men When they asked, money to the women and children.Tthere was a sense of community of helping . At times would be out in the desert hunting and would find camps with families women children we lowered our guns waved smiled hoped they were okay.Most people here have families on both sides of the border rich and poor
    SMUGGLING HAS ALWAYS BEEN AN (THE) INDUSTRY HERE.People were smuggled cheese,plants,animals,flowers,cascarones at easter,mayan ,aztec relics, drugs,fayuca..knock-offs copies phoney cigarettes made in china fake rolexes from all over the world,liquor(untaxed). Avoiding taxes a big motivation.Jjuarez has always had drugs moving through it.Many famous people have come here for that purpose alone.Then there is the gambling.offtrack betting the whorehouses a section was called boy’s town one could find whatever one wanted if they looked hard enough..My father was a newspaperman in California, he told me when i was young ‘you could get anything you wanted in San Francisco if you had the money..I wanted Willie Mays to play catch with me,but never had the money
    People blame the Americans for demanding drugs,..yes there is a huge market for them .People in Mexico also use drugs..The cartels know the price they get in the US dwarfs the price they get in Mexico drug use is worldwide and time tested.The money is often used to corrupt political officials,officers of the law,lawyers etc.. and to keep people poor..For decades Juarez was under control of a favored few as the hungry workers came from the south to take jobs in the twin plants.The murder rate of women,children and the poor was often kept low by ignoring the bodies The colonias(cross between shanty towns and slums) are on both sides of the border but worse in juarez.As the population exploded..racism, sexism,geographical hatred has grown and grown..’look at those poor people from vera cruz dirty uneducated polluting my city”look at those foolish women taking the jobs for delphi, thomson, rca, zenith,i hate them.’ ‘look at the pagans from central america coming here for a better life hoping to make it to america,i’ll show them.’
    Watching a city be destroyed so you can look down your nose and feel superior about yourself is not being thy brother’s keeper or doing GOD’s work!!!!!!!!!!!
    The problems are deep it is not only la ciudad de muerte ..de lagrimas constante that is being destroyed but cities and pueblos and villages all along the border ,throughout Mexicoand the United States
    The man who controlled the drivers would come in the morning as he made the schedule for the day .He would tell the most amazing stories.He had dropped out in the 9th grade he hated being poor using food stamps watching the rich and often corrupt people in his small Texas /New Mexico town.Then nobody was super rich but most people distrusted US government and state governments. The company often passed a little money on to the fire officials or the mayors so we could shave a little here or a little there so people in California , Utah , Ohio or Texas (pick your location) could make lots of money ..He talked about the harsh import rules Mexico had ,if a small part was needed to fix a machine or a software package was needed for accounting it would go over to Mexico without declaration to avoid the waits and the endless mordidas.
    This is not about right or wrong good or bad it is about MONEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Do not care how it is done the USA needs to get a slice of the underground economy if it can be done with the laws as they now are. Fine do it
    If it takes decriminalization fine do it and tax tax tax .Give the money to the DEA, ICE, FBI, ATF,NSA help them control the border and realize what is going back and forth .If it takes legalization then do it give the money to the states the schools the hospitals the caregivers,food programs,police departments.
    Right now the USA is failing. Oh yes people are getting rich but the poor are getting more beaten down.
    The rates of use and addiction are not slowing here or in Europe or Asia or Russia or Mexico or South America or Canada,Africa ,Central America, Alaska ,Australia..put people on the moon and soon there will be addictions.
    People have used altering substances for as long as they have been on this 3rd rock from the sun sugar, fats,alcohol,perscription drugs are all abused used to placate our constant desires.
    Use the money to explore the planets around us
    Go to the cartel leaders they have the networks in place deal with them get an idea what is really flowing back and forth. El Chapo,El Mayo, El Viceroy.El Barbie, and the many others around the world in Asia ,Afghanistan,Europe men get the most press but there are women also,they are not stupid people many could teach business courses.All governments profit from prohibitions..Mexican govt has ties to the cartels some more than others. American politicians have ties to the very same groups just distanced with deniability at hand
    People will stop using harmful substances when they decide to or when the addictions overcome them, not because a law is passed
    The owner’s son of the trucking company died a day short of his 39th birthday from eating too much pushing his fears and anger down with food.His family was very wealthy but no one ever reached him. He was the saddest most unhappy person i ever met
    He would go to juarez to gamble or drive to nevada to lose his paycheck before most of us had even cashed ours


  • Kelly James

    Get Tougher some one says!!! Oh really??? Jail and or kill 20,000,000 pot smokers! WE ALREADY HAAVE MORE PEOPLE IN JAIL PERCENTAGE WISE THAN ANY COUNTRY ON EARTH!!!!!!! Are you trying to do out do Hitler in evil? Drugs are NOT evil, except for perhaps ALCOHOL!!!! Drugs are not Satanic, but I know stubborn refusal to face facts is. Face facts then, pot kills ZERO a year . High School football kills about 20. Cocaine and HEROIN kill about 6000. (SURPRISE!) Alcohol kills about 250, 000!. TOBACCO KILLS 500,000!!!! I suppose you think that spending ONE TRILLION dollars on the drug war thus far is the reason no one has ever overdosed (died) on marijuana???? The drug war will destroy us, not a little plant called marijuana that used to make all the sails on those huge ships in the 19th century. That would be roughly 1800 -1900 for some of you. The first US flag, you know with the circle of 13 stars was on HEMP CANVAS, that’s what marijuana used to be called. HEMP!!! Most of the paper in books used to be hemp. PORTUGAL has legal drugs and the percentage of USERS IS LESS THERE than in the US!!!!!!! Pray to Jesus for the next hour that this INSANE war on drugs ends!!!!! I will.