March 17, 2010 in Nation/World

Troops fail to control drug gangs

500 dead in Ciudad Juarez despite Mexican offensive
Tracy Wilkinson Los Angeles Times
 
Associated Press photo

Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon gestures during a press conference in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – The slayings of three people attached to the U.S. Consulate here underscore the failings of Mexico’s military offensive against drug gangs despite a steady flow of troop reinforcements and personal attention from President Felipe Calderon.

Calderon came to Ciudad Juarez on Tuesday for the third time in 33 days. The trip was already scheduled, but its agenda has been overtaken by the consulate slayings – just three of the 500 people killed in the city this year alone.

The president encountered angry demonstrations, as on his previous visits, and a citizenry that is tense, frustrated and increasingly hopeless.

“We are fed up, Mr. President,” read the banner headline in Ciudad Juarez’s leading newspaper, El Diario.

Ciudad Juarez today is the epicenter of unrestrained drug-war violence, with the highest homicide and kidnapping rates in the country and one of the broadest penetrations of drug-trafficking corruption.

Coroners are overwhelmed by the sheer number of dead. Houses sit vacant, a quarter of the city’s population, by official estimate, having fled in the last two years. Thousands of businesses have shuttered rather than pay steep extortion fees to gangs.

Calderon has poured nearly 10,000 army and police troops into the city. But far from restoring security, the killings have only soared. Killers act with impunity and, if it turns out the Americans were targeted because of who they were, with newfound brazenness.

In his trip to Ciudad Juarez on Feb. 11, Calderon was forced to publicly recognize that the offensive launched when he took office in December 2006 was “not working.”

Saturday’s attacks on U.S. diplomatic personnel and their families – and the swift, harsh voice of outrage from the Obama administration – ratcheted up the pressure on Calderon and embarrassed his government. Canada on Tuesday seconded Washington’s warning to citizens against unnecessary travel to parts of Mexico.

Calderon will be pressed to capture suspects to show that his government still has the upper hand. There also will be questions in the U.S. about that country’s cooperation with Mexico’s fight against traffickers.

Washington has pledged $1.3 billion to Mexico to beef up police and the judiciary, but only a fraction of the money has been released. Mexican politicians were quick to lament the consulate deaths but added that the U.S. must share responsibility because its gun dealers supply the weapons and its addicts keep the traffickers in business.

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