Police officials stand guard in front of the El Aliviane drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Thursday. Gunmen broke into the drug rehabilitation center Wednesday night, lined people against a wall and shot 17 dead in a particularly bloody day in Mexico's relentless drug war.
Police officials stand guard in front of the El Aliviane drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Thursday. Gunmen broke into the drug rehabilitation center Wednesday night, lined people against a wall and shot 17 dead in a particularly bloody day in Mexico's relentless drug war. AP
Across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, is the city of Juarez. It's known as the murder capital of Mexico. During a 48-hour stretch this week, 37 people were killed — including residents at a drug rehab clinic.
Outside the Aliviane Rehabilitation Center there are no flowers, no shrines to the dead and no makeshift crosses. Instead there's yellow police tape, a pool of dried blood and half a dozen mismatched shoes strewn across the entry way.
Some neighbors say the barrage of gunshots lasted 15 minutes. The gunmen lined up, and then killed 18 of the residents. They even shot the center's dog.
Up the street from the rehab center, a young man and his uncle are sitting out on the sidewalk. They suggest that we move inside if we are going to talk about who's killing who in the neighborhood but they don't seem surprised the carnage.
"It's not just here," says the young man, who doesn't want to be identified. "It's everywhere in Juarez but you know a lot of bad stuff happens here at the border which is right here where we are at."
Looking north up their gritty street you can see the U.S. border fence.
They say the problem at the rehabilitation center was that rehab has become part of the whole drug cycle. People start using drugs, then they're selling drugs, then they're trying to get off drugs and then they're using again. So people in rehab often are right in the middle of the drug life.
This week's slaughter was the fifth mass shooting at a Juarez drug rehab facility in the last year. And this particular place, the men say, catered to Aztecas, one of the numerous street gangs fighting for a slice of the Juarez narcotics trade.
"We are speaking about it and we are not supposed to," says the young man, who didn't want to give his name. "Most of the people who do speak about it, they end up getting killed, right?"
They say this massacre occurred because some of the people inside the center crossed La Linea, the Juarez cartel, and thus everyone inside had to pay.
Government officials from the local level all the way up to the federal government denounced the killing.
The Mayor's office announced that panic buttons would be installed in every drug detox center citywide. The buttons will ring straight to the local police.
Jaime Torres Valadez the spokesman for Juarez, says the city along with the state and federal government, is trying to put the brakes on the drug-related killings.
"We've changed our strategies to try to reduce the crime rate," Torres says. "But the criminals have also changed their strategies. They attack. We attack. We are continuing the fight and we are confident that soon we'll bring calm to Ciudad Juarez."
But so far the murders continue.
In March, the Mexican Army took over the police department in effort to stem the killings. It worked at first. There were even a few days when the newspaper headlines proclaimed "Zero Murders!"
But by last month those days were gone. In August, according to Torres, there were 338 homicides — the highest number recorded in a single month.
In a square in the center of Juarez, people are sitting along long benches in the fading afternoon light. Once it gets dark, most of them will scurry towards their homes.
The mass killing at the drug rehab has only added to a widespread sense of fear.
"Everyone feels insecure here right now," says Alfonso Olivares, who works as a cook. "There are so many killings. We've been waiting more than a year for things to change, and it still hasn't happened."
It hasn't happened despite the Mexican government sending thousands of soldiers and federal police into the streets. Military and police helicopters buzz in the sky.
President Felipe Calderon this week defended what's come to be known as his drug war. Calderon acknowledged that it's a bloody war and there have been setbacks, but he said it's one that Mexico has to fight.