Photo Caption: Miguel Tovar / Associated Press Federal police arrive in
Tracking the drug war is like following a moving target, if you'll forgive the pun implicit in a weaponry analogy. Constant change makes it hard to get a fix on truth. These bullet points show how the drug wars (there are three of them!) affect life in El Paso-Juárez this month:
- Nearly 11,000 soldiers and federal agents now patrol the streets of Juarez in a massive and unprecedented show of force aimed at drug cartels and hit squads (as well as corrupt members of the police). Mexican authorities want to restore peace to the beleaguered battleground border city, the gateway of the lucrative Juárez--El Paso smuggling corridor. Nearly 2,000 people, including several police officers and commanders, have been killed in Juarez in the past year.
- Further militarization: The Juárez mayor appointed a retired Mexican army general as the new secretary of public safety. An infantry colonel with the Mexican army is the brand new police chief. And the federal government sent a national defense department official to Juárez as the public safety adviser.
- The Mexican army took even further control of Juárez by disarming 380 transit police and taking over their department. Now armed soldiers accompany (unarmed) traffic police on patrol. Meanwhile transit police undergo exams intended to weed out corruption.
- The Mexico attorney general's office loaned about 20 bulletproof vehicles to the Juárez city government for the heads of the police department. Last month the police operations director was assassinated when ambushed in a regular patrol truck.
- The death toll has slowed. Three hundred homicides, or about five a day, occurred in Juárez in the first two months of 2009. But this month the death toll has fallen to one or two a day. However, the border is braced for the drug cartels' retaliation. When will that shoe drop?
- We look to top leadership. President Barack Obama plans to discuss the increasing drug violence with Mexican President Felipe Calderón next month during his first visit to Mexico. Meanwhile Calderón offered a $2 Million reward for information leading to the arrest of 24 top drug lords.
- Public Awareness. When I first began issuing these reports, readers reacted with surprise, expressing little awareness of the severity of the problem. Now mainstream media cover the story. I mention two notable recent stories: CBS's 60 Minutes "The War Next Door" brought the situation onto the US's longstanding popular news magazine program. A lesser known Democracy Now program, "Obama Signals Readiness to Further Militarize Drug War...," wove a layer of excellent commentary and analysis into the coverage. Both links are worthy of your time.
The words of Bruce Berman, El Paso resident/artist/author sum up the heroism of the common person in Juárez, as they continue undaunted:
"One thing for sure: Juárez has got the stiffest upper lip I have ever seen. Defiant. Life goes on. No matter how this ends, life goes on, and, it will end. Juárez is defiant. Desafiante.
Juárez will not end."