Americans Killed In Bloody Attack In Juarez

Mexico was rattled by another violent incident this weekend. This time it was in the city of Juarez involving American officials. Gunmen shot and killed a pregnant American consulate worker and her husband, leaving their infant child crying in the back seat of the car. Gunmen also killed the husband of another consulate employee and wounded his two young children. Host Michel Martin speaks with reporter Franc Contreras of Al Jazeera and the BBC. Last year more than 2,500 people were killed in Juarez alone.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Today, we start in Mexico because we want to talk about the deaths of three people linked to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. That's the border city across from El Paso, Texas.

Two young children were also injured in these attacks. In a moment, we'll speak to a doctor who's continuing to treat patients in Ciudad Juarez no matter who they are. In that border city, more than 2,500 people were killed last year alone.

But first, we want to tell you more about how gunmen shot and killed a pregnant American consulate worker and her husband, leaving their infant child crying in the backseat of a car. Another group of gunmen also killed the husband of another consular employee and wounded his two young children aged four and seven.

Joining us now is reporter Franc Contreras. He's a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera and the BBC. Welcome. Thanks for joining us once again.

Mr. FRANC CONTRERAS (Contributing Reporter, Al Jazeera, BBC): Hello. How are you?

MARTIN: This story, as you might imagine, gotten a tremendous amount of attention in the United States in part because it took place in the middle of the day, but also because, needless to say, these were American embassy workers and also because of the presence of children. There seemed to be no concern about their presence. And I wonder, what was the reaction in Mexico? Are people similarly shocked by this?

Mr. CONTRERAS: I was speaking on the phone today, in fact, with the people in Ciudad Juarez, Michel. And they're expressing just an utter shock over this. They know that this does represent a strong uptick, a surge in the violence because this is the first time now that U.S. diplomatic agents inside Mexico have been targeted directly by the violence that appears. And that's the line that investigators are taking.

But when you ask regular people, they do express shock. And they know that they weren't just American citizens who were killed over the weekend. There were also dozens of Mexicans who were killed. So there's a sense that the situation here is really escalating.

MARTIN: And what has been the reaction of the government to this week? I understand that President Felipe Calderon was already scheduled to head to Juarez tomorrow. What has he been saying?

Mr. CONTRERAS: The president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, has come out strongly denouncing this crime. He says that Mexico will use all of its resources to get to the bottom of this, of these murders and bring them to justice. He says that he will continue to use the force of the state. And basically, that implies that he's going to continue to use military presence and heavily armed federal agents to try to bring the drug violence under control. That's something that Calderon began when he took office in December 2006. But it's a policy that's starting to face a tremendous amount of criticism here.

MARTIN: I wanted to ask you about that because a former Mexican foreign minister, Jorge Casteneda, told the New York Times this weekend that these killings should prompt the Obama administration to rethink its support for what he called - President Felipe Calderon - what he called his failed strategy to combat drugs. Are there other voices within Mexico saying that this strategy, heavy military presence, focusing a lot on the law enforcement side just isn't working?

Mr. CONTRERAS: Well, as you point out, Jorge Casteneda is a strong voice coming out against the president, Mexican president's strategy here of using armed forces to try to bring the violence under control. Casteneda came out with an important book in Spanish and it's called "The Failed War." He was very, very critical in this book. And his co-author, by the way, was a man who was the spokesman for a previous Mexican president of the same political party that Felipe Calderon belongs to, the conservative National Action Party.

So these are just among some of the voices that you hear. But you'll also hear some of Mexico's most important historians. You'll hear analysts in the region, not just in the Spanish language, but virtually any language now wondering, is this really the way forward? And so there is a strong concern now at this stage.

President Barack Obama, by the way, has come out very strongly himself against denouncing these crimes. But he's also said that he's going to support Calderon's decision to use force - to continue to use force. That's partly because the U.S. government has given over $1 billion to Mexico to fight its war on drugs.

And so, while you hear from critical voices wondering, is this really is this policy really going to work? You still hear the most important official voices saying, it is still important to use military force and security forces in Mexico to quell the drug violence.

MARTIN: And finally, can I ask you, how are you doing? I mean, we've reported on the fact that journalists are frequently a target now in Mexico, along with, you know, people just trying to go about their business. I mean, for example, there's a report that's saying grocery stores in that area are being chased out - small business owners - because of extortion and because of fears. And journalists are a target. How are you?

Mr. CONTRERAS: Thanks for asking. I'm doing well. I'm worried. There are nights when I wonder, you know, am I being monitored, that sort of thing. I have no evidence of that. I live in the Mexican capital. The drug violence hotspots are generally right now along the U.S.-Mexico border. In large part, some of the most heavy violence that we're hearing about is happening just south of the border of Texas.

MARTIN: Sure. Well, we'll keep in touch.

Mr. CONTRERAS: Journalists in that area, they're really, really under fire, Michel.

MARTIN: All right, well, keep in touch. Frank Contreras is a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera and the BBC. He joined us by phone from his office in Mexico City. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Mr. CONTRERAS: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.