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The trouble in Juarez

Juarez, Mexico, is a place of profound sorrow and persistent fear. Drug cartels have terrorized the city and killed 5,000 people there in the last two years, among them many innocent adults and children.

In the Villas de Salvarcar, a neighborhood on the city’s south side, assassins confused a birthday party for a gang gathering last January. The ensuing massacre left 15 dead, including 11 middle and high school students.

“The kids were all there, there was so much smoke and dust,” said the mother of a teenage son who was slain. “The bodies were all over the place, they’d fallen on top of each other. My son was a very good kid.  He was a good student, he wasn’t a gang-banger.”

Fearing for their lives, she has sent her surviving children to live outside of Juarez — and she’s not alone. An estimated 400,000 people have fled the violence in Juarez in the past two years including at least 30,000 who fled across the border into El Paso, Texas.

In March of this year, the violence made headlines when a U.S. consulate worker and her husband were gunned down in Juarez in front of their infant child. The husband was targeted by American gangs working for the cartels on both sides of the border.

“Those gang members came from the U.S.; it brings forth very clearly that the U.S. has a problem. This isn’t just a Mexican problem, this is a joint problem,” said Juarez Mayor José Farriz.

But U.S. involvement goes far beyond borderland gangs. Americans consume $23 to $25 billion in drugs from Mexico every year, a demand that drives much of the trafficking. And 90 percent of the firearms in Mexico are traced back to the U.S., according to Robert Champion, the special agent in charge of the evidence vault at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in El Paso.

“We are a gun nation, so, we have a lot of what they need down in Mexico right now… and money is not an object for them,” said Champion.

Governments on both sides of the border are fighting an uphill battle to make change despite the widespread corruption of officials.

“When I first came in I had very large suspicions of the management staff at the police,” said Juarez Mayor Jose Farriz. “I fired all the managers at, at the police force. And operational head of the police force was stopped a couple of months later going into the U.S. with a ton of marijuana in his car. So that really puts the level of corruption into, into perspective.”

On the U.S. side of the border, there were 839 allegations of corruption involving Department of Homeland Security employees in 2009.

“We find that some are willing to compromise their authorities and sell out their allegiance to those that would harm our country in any way they can and harm our agents in any way they can for remarkably small amounts of money,” said James Tomsheck, an official for the Department of Homeland Security’s internal affairs unit.

The Obama administration has spent $11 billion a year to secure our borders and has given $1.4 to support Mexican law enforcement by providing equipment and training. President Caldarón has committed $300 million to social infrastructure in Juarez, where the judicial system is broken and there are few high schools. And Mayor Ferriz has added hundreds of newly trained officers to his police force.

But the dispatch of military and federal police into Juarez has done little to control the violence. And for the Mexicans enduring this bloody war, like the mothers of the teens murdered in Villas de Salvarcar, change has not come fast enough.

“Everyday it is so depressing knowing my son will not come home, that he won’t ever eat my cooking again, that I’ll never see his face,” she said. “It is very hard.”

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