Mexico's 'Murder Capital' Lives Up To Reputation August was the deadliest month for Juarez, which is often referred to as the murder capital of Mexico. The city is just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. In one 48-hour stretch, 37 people were gunned down in Juarez, including 18 at a drug rehabilitation center.
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Mexico's 'Murder Capital' Lives Up To Reputation

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Mexico's 'Murder Capital' Lives Up To Reputation

Mexico's 'Murder Capital' Lives Up To Reputation

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro, sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. Just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, the murder capital of Mexico has convulsed with killings this week. Of the more than three dozen people killed in Juarez, 18 were in a drug rehabilitation center, lined up against a wall and executed. NPR's Jason Beaubien has that story.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Outside the El Aviane Rehabilitation Center, there were no flowers, no shrines to the dead, no makeshift crosses. Instead, there's some yellow police tape, a pool of dried blood and a half a dozen mismatched shoes strewn across the entryway.

This is the calm after the barrage of gunshots that some neighbors say lasted for 15 minutes. The gunmen who lined up and then killed 18 of the residents 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 suggested we move inside if we're going to talk about who's killing who in the neighborhood. But they don't seem surprised by the carnage.

Unidentified Man #1: It's not only here. It's actually everywhere in Juarez, but, you know, a lot of bad stuff happens here on the very border, which is right here where we're at.

BEAUBIEN: Looking north up their gritty street, you can see the U.S. border fence. They say the problem at the rehab 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, then they're using drugs 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, cater to Aztecas, one of the numerous street gangs fighting for a slice of the Juarez narcotics trade. The two men don't want to give their names.

Unidentified Man #2: (Spanish spoken)

Unidentified Man #1: Like, right now we're speaking about it and we're not supposed to, because most of the people that do speak about it, they end up killed, right?

BEAUBIEN: 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 they're installing panic buttons 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.

Mr. JAIME TORRES VALADEZ (Spokesman, Juarez, Mexico): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: 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 murder rate just keeps going up. In March, the Mexican army took over the police department in an 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 long gone. In August, according to Torres, there were 338 homicides, the highest number ever recorded in a single month.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

BEAUBIEN: 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 these people will scurry towards their homes. The mass killing at the drug rehab center has only added to a widespread sense of fear.

Mr. ALFONSO OLIVARES: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Everyone feels insecure here right now, says Alfonso Olivares. There are so many killings. Olivares, who works as a cook, says there's no end in sight.

Mr. OLIVARES: (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: We've been waiting more than a year for things to change, he says, 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.

This week, President Felipe Calderon 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.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Juarez.

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