Building Young Assassins In Juarez In this violence-filled Mexican city, "drug cartel" has many meanings. Residents say it includes the government, the military, big business, small business, the upper, middle, and lower classes, the justice system and the media. How can this be?
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Building Young Assassins In Juarez

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Building Young Assassins In Juarez

Building Young Assassins In Juarez

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This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.


And I'm Noah Adams. This week, we've been reporting on Juarez, the border town that is an epicenter of Mexico's drug war. Independent producer Scott Carrier ends his three-part series today with a report on the generation of young people who have grown up with drugs and violence woven into the fabric of their lives.

SCOTT CARRIER: If you ask people in Juarez what's causing the terrible violence in their city, almost all of them will tell you it's a war between two rival cartels over the control of the drug market, or plaza, as they say. This is the same explanation given by the Mexican government and by nearly every news agency. It's an easy explanation to accept, and it implies a solution. Eventually, one cartel will defeat the other cartel, and the killing will stop.

But if you keep talking to people in Juarez, ask them more questions, you come to realize that when they say "drug cartel," for them this term also implies the government, the military, big business, small business, the justice system, and the media. They've come to accept that the billions of dollars that come from the drug trade have corrupted all phases of their society and that because of this, their society is falling apart. This guy works pumping gas at a Beep Beep(ph) convenience store on one of the main boulevards in Juarez.

Have you seen any violence, personally? Have you seen any...

Unidentified Man: Yeah, every day.

CARRIER: What have you seen?

Unidentified Man: Well, not too long ago I see somebody kill an old man with eight bullets behind right here.

CARRIER: Behind the pizza place?

Unidentified Man: Yes, sir, behind this place.

CARRIER: Eight bullets?

Unidentified Man: Eight bullets in the head.

CARRIER: Why do you think he was killed?

Unidentified Man: Being in the wrong place in the wrong time and doing something he don't supposed to be doing.

CARRIER: Back in the good old days, about 10 years ago, billions of dollars of illegal drugs moved through Juarez on their way into the United States every year, but they weren't sold locally because the drug lord in Juarez at that time, Amado Carillo, wouldn't allow it. He was protecting his people. But after he died in 1997, things changed. Cocaine and heroine and methamphetamine began to be sold and consumed in Juarez on a large scale.

Do you think that a lot of people in Juarez now are using the drugs? Is that always...

Unidentified Man: Ninety nine percent. Young people, old people, it doesn't matter. And wait till the next generation, it will be worse. Ten years, and it will be more killings and more violence, because now the young people start learning, and they say, this our way of life. So when I'm going to grow up, I'm going to kill somebody. I'm going to go sell drugs. So, poor Juarez.

CARRIER: The local distribution of these drugs was and is controlled by street gangs of which there are estimated to be more that 500 in Juarez. Gang members take drugs, they sell drugs, and they kill people, mainly members of other gangs, but also people who get in their way. Many of the young boys who join these gangs have parents who work in maquiladoras, American assembly plants, where they make about a dollar an hour.

Juarez is part of the global economy, the part where the workers earn poverty wages and live in houses made of wooden pallets and cardboard. Clara Torres is a lawyer and social worker in Juarez.

Ms. CLARA TORRES (Lawyer; Social Worker): (Through Translator) What is happening in Juarez is that we are paying the price for what we have failed to do when we transformed the city into a maquiladora city here on the border. We generated jobs and we attracted a lot of immigration from the rest of the country, but we didn't give them the conditions to make a better life for their families. We didn't invest in social infrastructure - schools, parks, childcare centers - all of the things that are needed to create citizens here in our city.

When we take the mother out of the home and put her in the labor environment, the kids are left alone and exposed to these pushers who begin to give them drugs to turn them into addicts. And once they become addicts, this is their captive market.

CARRIER: Jose Antonio Gavan(ph) is a street preacher in Juarez who runs a rescue mission for recovering drug addicts, many of whom have been in gangs.

Mr. JOSE ANTONIO GAVAN (Mexican Street Preacher): (Through Translator) The cradle of the criminals in all the world and in Juarez is the gang where they begin to select the most soulless, the cruelest ones. There, they begin to grow. Leaders are born amongst these young assassins. Sometimes at an early age of 13 or 14, they have already killed five or six people. In the media and in the TV shows, they're making these grotesque novellas, soap operas, that teach how a narcotrafficker can live a luxurious life with the most beautiful young women, new cars every year, excessive luxury.

And so, our people who live in extreme poverty, living in cardboard shacks, who have so many needs, who are hungry, young people who have nothing have been motivated and fed by these diabolical lies. They are being taught to kill and live their life rapidly like mist because the life of a narcotrafficker is very short.

CARRIER: A surprising thing about Juarez is that in spite of the violence, people get up in the morning and go to work. In a city of one and a half million, life goes on. The boulevards fill up with traffic. The stores open on time. Everyone in Juarez is moving, doing something, because in this city, you've got to work to stay alive. It's always been like this. Juarez has always been a city of immigrants, people coming from all over Mexico and Latin America to find work. The difference is now the people are afraid all the time. Soledad Borja(ph) works as a cleaning in lady in Juarez.

Ms. SOLEDAD BORJA (Mexican Cleaning Lady): (Through Translator) It's too much, the violence. Day after day, seven, 10 dead, eight, five people killed. Everyone says the same thing. Everyone is talking about it, that you can't go out on the street safely because you can be shot anywhere without deserving it, without knowing where it might come from. No one can stop it because organized crime has overcome the government. It's now more powerful than the government. Only the power of God can stop this, what is happening here. Only the power of God, the all powerful.

CARRIER: This is another thing people in Juarez will tell you. They don't see how this current wave of violence will come to an end. It's hard for us here in the United States to conceive of this. It would mean that our social order had fallen apart. And that's just what it's like every day for people in Juarez. For NPR News, I'm Scott Carrier.

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