Mexico's Drug War Brings More Carnage To Border Almost 2,600 people have been killed in Juarez this year, making it the hemisphere's murder capital. The wave of killings that has grown steadily over the last two years has spawned a secondary crime wave of kidnapping and extortion. The violence has left the city in a state of shock.
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Mexico's Drug War Brings More Carnage To Border

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Mexico's Drug War Brings More Carnage To Border

Mexico's Drug War Brings More Carnage To Border

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Murders in Mexico have risen as the drug war there has worsened. The northern border city of Juarez has been ground zero. More than 25,000 people have been killed there this year alone, making it the most deadly city in the Americas. Residents say the drug war there is also fuelling a wave of kidnapping, extortion and petty crime. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

JASON BEAUBIEN: The Colonia Postal(ph) in Juarez is set on a hillside, looking out over the city. It's a poor neighborhood with homes ranging from tidy two bedroom cement houses to wooden shacks. From the rises in the colonia's dusty, dirt streets, residents have a clear view of El Paso, Texas. But this colonia is world's away from El Paso. The tension, the stress, the fear that permeates Juarez right now is palpable here. People are leery of strangers, few kids play outside, young men sell drugs next to a shimmering SUV, and shopkeepers have barricaded themselves behind bars.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: This pair of sisters who run a small stationery store are at first reluctant to talk but agree only if their names aren't mentioned.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: We have been attacked here, the older sister says. So, now we don't open the door for anyone we don't know. They have run this shop for 34 years but this year they started locking the front door even when they are open. Despite the deployment of thousands of Mexican soldiers and federal police into the streets of Juarez this year, the bodies keep appearing, they say.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Two days ago they executed four young guys three blocks from here, the older sister says. The victims were in a funeral procession for another young man who has just been gunned down. The mourners left the church around the corner, they passed in front of the sister's shop and then the gunmen opened fire on them at the bottom of the hill. Stories like this have become quiet common in Juarez. Every day the newspapers list the people who have been murdered the day before. Sometimes it's 18, sometimes 12, 16 dead.

A few months ago, in one of the worst mass killings in the city, 17 people were lined up and executed at a drug rehab center. The violence started in a turf war between two of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels. But residents say it's expanded to include kidnapping, home invasion and extortion. The sisters at the stationery store say the ringing of the telephone can send shivers down your spine. It could be a relative being held hostage or an extortionist demanding money.

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Now we have to first check who is calling. If we don't know the number we won't answer it. They say that a lot of other businesses in the colonia have shut down because their owners wouldn't, couldn't or didn't meet the demands of the extortionists.

Dr. ARTURO VALENZUELA(ph): The question is not am I going to get kidnapped or am I going to get hurt - the question is not that.

BEAUBIEN: Arturo Valenzuela is a emergency room doctor in Juarez. He says people in city are terrified.

Dr. VALENZUELA: The question is when, you see? So, people are very, very afraid.

BEAUBIEN: Dr. Valenzuela is part of a group of medical professionals that staged two protests in the city over the last year. The first was to denounce the rampant kidnapping of medical professionals; the second earlier this month was calling for peace in Juarez. Valenzuela says the organized criminals are out of control.

Dr. VALENZUELA: Look, I am a surgeon. So at the beginning I start to deal with regular bullets. And now they have a very, the high speed guns, those guns really, really destroys the human body. But now, recently, I have to deal with grenades. So what's next?

BEAUBIEN: He says the answer to Juarez's problems isn't going to come from politicians or the police or the military. After all, the Mexican army took over the city's police department this year after the Juarez cartel ordered the police chief to step down and killed his top deputy to emphasize their point. Valenzuela predicts the solution will come from ordinary people. His group set up a hotline to help kidnap victims' families because residents don't trust the local police. So the kidnapping hotline is answered by physicians.

Dr. VALENZUELA: We send to their houses psychologists that help them, and the negotiator that will do the, you know, business with those criminal people. And that help us all because people have been paying very high rates for their relatives.

BEAUBIEN: He says one campesino he tried to work with this year sold everything he owned to get his son back. Valenzuela is an emergency room doctor in one of the most of violent cities on the planet, but tears well up in his eyes as he recounts how the man sold his house, his plot of land and his entire year's crop to come up with the ransom.

Dr. VALENZUELA: Just sold it very, very, very cheap to pay those guys.

BEAUBIEN: The man was too scared to accept help, but if he had, Valenzuela says the professional negotiator can typically get the final payment down to 10 percent of the original ransom demand.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Earlier this month, Juarez officials presented a new police force to the city. Much of the old force was fired or quit after municipal authorities gave them lie detector tests. The new department is twice the size of the old one and they'll be issued high powered assault rifles to put them equal footing with the organized criminals.

Mayor JOSE REYES FERRIZ (Juarez): (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The Juarez mayor, Jose Reyes Ferriz, pointing out towards the sea of new officers who are about to be sworn in, said no municipal police force in Mexico confronts a challenge as difficult as the one faced by the men and women were today being presented to the community. And this is the conundrum of Juarez. The city has doubled its police force. The federal government has thrown thousand of soldiers and highly trained federal officers into the streets, and yet the wave of murders and crime doesn't just continue, it keeps getting worse.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

SIMON: You can see some of the effects of violence on Jaurez in a photo gallery at NPR.org.

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