Latin America

August Proves Deadly For Mexico's War On Drugs

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August has been the deadliest month in Juarez, Mexico, since President Felipe Calderon opened the war on narcotraffickers. By some counts, as many as 326 people were killed in August. In his state of the union address, Calderon said he was committed to continue the fight, but it's unclear what else he can add to his arsenal.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

And I'm Noah Adams.

In Mexico's northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, hooded gunmen burst into a drug rehabilitation clinic, lined people against a wall and opened fire. Eighteen people were killed in the attack last night. It's among the bloodiest attacks in Mexico's three-year struggle with drug cartels. In the last month alone, 300 people have died in Juarez.

Earlier today I spoke with NPR's Jason Beaubien, who's in the border city. He said Mexican authorities are investigating Wednesday's attack on the rehab clinic.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Basically we still don't know exactly who carried this out and we may never know. It should be pointed out that there have been four other attacks on drug rehab centers in Ciudad Juarez over the last 12 months - none of them had been solved. This was definitely the bloodiest. At the moment, there's no one at the facility. We don't really know what happened at this point.

ADAMS: Now, obviously, it's not clear right away why the cartels would go after a drug rehab facility, at least from this distance. What is the story there?

BEAUBIEN: It appears that the drug rehab centers are a part of the overall drug game, the drug culture, part of what's happening here in this city that has become so consumed with drugs. It seems like people who were using drugs, people who were selling drugs end up going into the drug rehab centers.

People say that some of the centers are controlled by particular gangs and that possibly a rival gang came in and was taking revenge on this other gang. It's the place where people involved in drugs live, at times go in for rehab, at times come back out to work on the streets again. That seems to be what's going on.

ADAMS: Juarez is said to be the worst city for drug violence. It's not the only place, of course, throughout Mexico. How is this drug violence situation playing out in the rest of the country?

BEAUBIEN: It's really playing out throughout the entire country. I mean, this wasn't the only bloody attack yesterday. Down in Michoacan, the second in command for the state security was gunned down in a similar type of attack. Commandos tracked down his car, killed him, killed both his bodyguards. And this was a guy who'd only been in the job for two weeks, but he was very high ranking in the state security services.

Elsewhere, all the way across to the other side of the country, in the Yucatan, one of the top prosecutors - actually, the top federal prosecutor in Quintana Roo was arrested yesterday. And he was accused of working with one of the drug cartels.

So it really has sort of spread throughout. And the president himself is also talking about it, saying that he's going to continue to fight this. It's come to dominate Mexico, this fight and this problem.

ADAMS: President Obama has promised to help support President Felipe Calderon's efforts there. What has the U.S. done so far to help?

BEAUBIEN: The U.S. has pledged in excess of a billion dollars to help Mexico with this war. That money has sort of slowly been trickling out. We just had a couple hundred million of it released just this week. That's going to be money for helicopters. It's going to be money for training. So the U.S. has offered quite a bit of money. There's been a little bit of frustration here that the money's been coming quite slowly.

ADAMS: NPR's Jason Beaubien talking with us from Mexico's northern border city of Ciudad Juarez. Thank you very much, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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Gunmen Kill 18 At Drug Rehab Center In Mexico

El Aliviane drug rehabilitation center in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez i

A man walks in front of El Aliviane drug rehabilitation center in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez on Thursday. The center was the site of a bloody massacre Wednesday night. AP hide caption

toggle caption AP
El Aliviane drug rehabilitation center in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez

A man walks in front of El Aliviane drug rehabilitation center in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez on Thursday. The center was the site of a bloody massacre Wednesday night.

AP

At least 18 people were killed when gunmen broke into a drug rehabilitation center in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez and went on a shooting spree, Mexican officials said.

Witnesses said four men broke down the door of the El Aliviane rehabilitation center in the Bellavista neighborhood about 7 p.m. Wednesday, lined the victims up against the wall and shot them, army spokesman Enrique Torres told Ciudad Juarez's El Diario newspaper. Two people remained hospitalized in critical condition.

Most of the victims were seeking treatment for alcohol or drug abuse at the house turned hostel, police said. According to El Diario, many of the dead were members of the notorious Barrio Azteca gang, which has spread to Mexico from Texas.

There have been five attacks against drug rehabilitation centers since August 2008, the newspaper reported. It said drug traffickers stage the attacks to get rid of rivals, who often seek shelter at the centers.

El Aliviane drug rehab center in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua i

Mexican army soldiers stand guard as forensic workers remove a body from El Aliviane drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, after gunmen broke through the door and opened fire. At least 18 people were killed, and two were seriously wounded. AP hide caption

toggle caption AP
El Aliviane drug rehab center in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua

Mexican army soldiers stand guard as forensic workers remove a body from El Aliviane drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, after gunmen broke through the door and opened fire. At least 18 people were killed, and two were seriously wounded.

AP

The Mexico City daily El Universal said state Public Security Secretary Victor Valencia de los Santos warned earlier this week that drug rehabilitation centers are becoming a hotbed of criminal activity. "Cartels are recruiting young people from 17 to 23 years old" at the centers, the paper quoted him as saying.

Juarez, which lies across the border from the west Texas city of El Paso, is among the most violent cities in the country. Mexican President Felipe Calderon dispatched as many as 10,000 troops there earlier this year to combat violence by drug gangs, but the cartels have not been deterred.

In other drug violence, suspected drug traffickers on Wednesday gunned down Jose Manuel Revueltas Lopez, one of the state's top security officials, and his two bodyguards.

Michoacan Attorney General Jesus Montejano Ramirez said heavily armed men in two vehicles overtook Revueltas Lopez as he was driving home from his office at the Department of Public Safety down a busy street in the Michoacan state capital of Morelia. The gunmen pulled alongside Revueltas Lopez's vehicle and opened fire, but he was initially able to elude them.

About six blocks away, two vehicles blocked the path of Revueltas Lopez's car, and armed men got out and opened fire. Montejano Ramirez said a bystander also was killed in the spray of bullets.

Government officials said Revueltas Lopez — who had been on the job only two weeks — was killed in retaliation for the arrests of top figures in the La Familia drug cartel, including Luis Ricardo Magana. Magana allegedly controlled methamphetamine trafficking into the United States. The cartel is also suspected of killing 18 federal agents and two soldiers last month. In one attack, the bodies of 12 agents were left along a roadside as a warning.

Michoacan, the president's home state, was the first state to receive help from troops to battle drug cartels after Calderon was elected in 2006.

At least 1,400 deaths in Juarez have been blamed on drug violence this year alone.

Wednesday's massacre in Ciudad Juarez was the largest since March 4, when violence between the Barrio Azteca gang and rival gangs left 20 dead at the Cereso prison near Ciudad Juarez.

The state of Chihuahua, which includes Ciudad Juarez, has been gripped by violence for years, as warring drug cartels battle for supremacy in the lucrative drug market.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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