In Juarez, Gangs Come In Many Forms We talk with residents of about the murders that plague their Mexican city. The military has stepped up its presence to try to turn the tide of drug gang violence. But the public is not impressed, and many wish the soldiers would leave.

In Juarez, Gangs Come In Many Forms

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


And I'm Noah Adams. The U.S. government recently approved a $400 million aid package to Mexico to fight drug trafficking.

COHEN: Some of that money will go to the Mexican army to help police fight the drug trade. The public, though, is suspicious of the military's participation in the drug war.

ADAMS: Independent producer Scott Carrier has the second part of a three-part series on Juarez, Mexico. A word to parents, the piece does contain some disturbing descriptions.

SCOTT CARRIER: Last March, President Felipe Calderon sent 3,000 soldiers to Chihuahua, most of them to Juarez, one of the biggest battlefields in the drug war. The decision was widely supported by the Mexican people who were tired of corrupt police, corrupt judges, corrupt everything, and the bad guys always getting away. The troops arrived, but still things got worse, much worse.

Bodies started showing up in public places with lists of names of others who would be killed, including high-ranking police officers. The police became afraid to go to work. Kidnappings, carjackings, extortions all increased to record levels. The troops patrolled the streets in armored vehicles mounted with machine guns, dressed in full battle gear - helmets, flack jackets, kneepads. They could have driven their armored vehicles to the drug lords' houses. It's no secret where they live. And yet no drug lords have been arrested in Juarez.

Instead the army, together with federal, state, and municipal police, have focused on poor neighborhoods. Josefina Reyes Salazar(ph) lives in Guadalupe, a village just outside Juarez.

Ms. JOSEFINA REYES SALAZAR: (Through Translator) It was 4:30 in the morning, Sunday the 9th of June. The army broke into my house, breaking down doors, breaking things, turning over mattresses, the cabinets, everything, and even stealing things. They had on blue clothes. They wore round helmets and blue or black clothes with masks. They had no search warrant or arrest warrant. They arrived, beat up the family, beat the men, and they took one member of the family away. I want to tell you that it wasn't just at my house. There were around 30 houses where these kind of events happened.

CARRIER: From March to mid June of 2008, the attorney general's office in Juarez received 50 complaints against the army, complaints accusing the military of such things as forcibly disappearing citizens and torture by electric shocks and simulated suffocations with plastic bags. Many people we spoke with in Juarez believe the Mexican military was directly involved in some of the executions that had taken place in their city because of the way they happened.

The assassins, they say, arrive in SUVs with shaded windows and no license plates. They wear black clothes and black ski masks and carry automatic rifles and pistols. People say they position themselves around their target in disciplined and practiced maneuvers. These armed commandos are said to travel the city at night when the streets are empty, without being pursued by the military. So, the reasoning goes, they must be from the military.

On August 13th, at a drug rehab center in the poor part of the city, 30 recovering drug addicts were attending a prayer meeting lead by Socorro Garcia(ph), an Evangelical preacher. She was there, and she survived to tell the story.

Ms. SOCORRO GARCIA (Evangelical Preacher): (Through Translator) It was a normal day, a Wednesday like any other. And every Wednesday, we went to this center, and we would sing and preach. There were young people, sometimes 13 or 14 years old, and there were also very old people, 60, 62 years old. I told them, muchachos, you need to turn to God. Is there someone brave enough to accept Christ into your heart? Is there anyone of you here who was a Christian in the past but who fell away into drugs and who would like to reconcile with God?

All of a sudden, you could hear a whole lot of gunshots. Four armed men entered the room, shooting and shooting. They were dressed like soldiers, like military men, and they wore bulletproof vests and their black ski masks, their shoes, all of it like military gear. And one of them kept looking at me. I looked into his eyes, and he didn't shoot anymore. I don't know why he stopped shooting because I was right there in front of him, and one more life would have meant nothing to him. But he didn't shoot. Then when everything was over, when the men went away, I grabbed my purse and it was full of blood, all the blood that had come from the dead kids.

CARRIER: The coroner's report said eight were killed and five were wounded at the rehab center that day. Two Juarez papers the next morning reported eyewitness testimony that a group of seven or eight men wearing the uniforms of a special Mexican army unit, the Red Berets, had parked about 50 yards away from the massacre site, but did not come to the aid of those being attacked.

The Mexican army officially denied any involvement in the crime. There are many questions. Were the assassins perhaps hit men wearing army uniforms? After all, why would the military stand by while armed commandos kill a bunch of poor recovering drug addicts? Charles Bowden, author of "Down by the River," has covered the drug trade along the border extensively. He says in Juarez, you don't get answers to these kinds of questions.

Mr. CHARLES BOWDEN (Author, "Down by the River"): It is possible the people that killed the people in the drug rehab center were impersonating the military. But there's no reason for them to do it. You don't have to have a costume to kill people. You can speculate why you would slaughter people in a rehab center, but you drift into fantasyland. You say, oh, maybe they were selling drugs. You say, oh, maybe they were hiding gang members. You say they must be dirty or they wouldn't be there. But in fact, you don't know anything. The only thing you ever get to know in Juarez, if you're lucky, are the names of the dead. You don't get to know who killed them. You don't get to know why they were killed.

CARRIER: Bowden says people in Juarez have come to accept violence in their city like they accept the dust that fills the air whenever the wind blows. They breathe it in and move through it because what other choice do they have?

Mr. BOWDEN: Juarez, like Mexico, is a series of gangs. There's a city police gang. There's a state police gang. There's a federal police gang. There's the army, a separate gang. And then there's 500 independent gangs. And then there's the cartels. And so what you get is a society that's disintegrating, fighting for a piece of the pie. And in the crossfire, the Mexican people get slaughtered. That's the situation in Juarez today and in much of Mexico.

CARRIER: As I sit at my computer a thousand miles north of the border, I read the latest news from Juarez. One night, in the space of a half hour, armed commandos launch four attacks on police in different parts of the city. Four bodies are found at a dog-racing track. One of the bodies is decapitated, the head placed between the legs, wearing a Santa Claus hat. Next to the body is a list of police officers who will be killed in the near future. The amazing thing is tomorrow morning, people in Juarez will get up and go to work, and life will continue. For NPR News, I'm Scott Carrier.

ADAMS: Our Juarez series is a production of

COHEN: Tomorrow, the final report on how some fear that organized crime fueled by the drug trade is now more powerful than the country's government.

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