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Mexico’s Failed Drug War

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Americans woke up this morning to a shocking, graphic  photo in the New York Times of an American couple assassinated in Juarez Saturday afternoon. Their bullet riddled bodies slumped over in their white Toyota RAV4.  Linda Enriquez, 35,  who was 4 months pregnant, worked in the visa department at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez. Her husband Arthur Redelfs, 34, was a corrections officer at the county jail in El Paso. Their 7-month old daughter, who survived the shooting, was in the backseat.

Around the same time Saturday afternoon, Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, 37, the husband of an U.S. consular worker was also shot and killed. His two children ages 4 and 7 were in the back seat. They were wounded and taken to a local hospital.

The families were on their way home at 2:30 in the afternoon after attending a birthday party hosted by another consular employee.  Juarez’s Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz (who received a death threat last week that says he has two weeks to live) says that initial police evidence points to Los Aztecas, which are linked to the Juarez Cartel.

It’s year 4 of Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s war with the drug cartels funded with $1 billion from the United States.  On Sunday, President Obama condemned the brutal killings and said the United States will “work tirelessly” with Mexican law enforcement to prosecute the killers. FBI agents have been sent to Juarez to work on the case. The day after the shooting, the U.S. State Department ordered that families of consular employees along the border be sent back to the United States immediately.

The Saturday killings and the brutal deaths of 15 high school students in Juarez at a birthday party in January occurred in a city with more than 10,000 armed troops sent by Calderon more than two years ago. Despite the presence of the military, the body count escalates in Juarez and across the country.

The January 15 massacre of the teenagers marked a turning point for Calderon’s “war.”  Traveling in Japan at the time, Calderon surmised that the teens were somehow involved with the cartels. The teens were not violent thugs, however, just innocent high school students struggling to live in a violence wracked city. The number of innocent civilians dying as collateral in the drug war is rising – the fifteen teenagers and the three people killed on Saturday are just a portion of those innocent deaths. Mexican society which used to tacitly accept Calderon’s drug war are starting to push back.

In February, President Calderon visited Juarez to mend fences and acknowledge that the military escalation against the cartels was not working. He apologized to the families and vowed to invest millions of dollars in civic programs.

Protestors gathered outside Calderon’s hotel. Juarez resident Cipriana Jurado told an NPR reporter that Calderon’s administration had abandoned her city.

“They started a war without consulting the community, and the victims are the community,” she says. “We don’t want this war. There are executions and assassinations in broad daylight, but neither the army nor the federal police intervene.”

Now Juarez’s reality is all of northern Mexico’s reality. Kidnappings, murders and extortion are  afflicting more cities across Mexico. Despite Calderon’s tough talk, Mexicans are feeling more unsafe than ever.  

The Calderon and Obama administrations need to take a hard look at the drug war in Mexico. What does Calderon consider victory for his country? We know the billion dollar drug market in the United States is not going away. There are thousands of impoverished Mexicans willing to enter the bloody drug business for a chance to make a living. Meanwhile, Mexico’s social fabric is being torn to shreds. And communities feel they are being dragged into a bloody conflict that seems poised to swallow the country.

Calderon will visit Juarez tomorrow – his third visit to the city since the massacre of the 15 teenagers in January. If he doesn’t change course now, the number of innocents killed in the crossfire will only continue to grow.

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. Melissa is a 2014-15 Lannan Fellow at The Investigative Fund.