- Ciudad Juarez has seen a persistent increase in deadly violence over the past two years. The violence appears in large related to conflict between organized-crime groups. The state government has attempted to confront criminals and weed out corruption officials, but crime remains high.
In late 2016, a Mexican cartel boss warned that despite a significant decline in violence in Ciudad Juarez after 2012, the struggle for control of drug trafficking there had never ceased.
“Absolutely nothing has changed, just the order was that we be more discreet, that we don’t shoot at people in the street,” said Jorge, a cell leader for La Linea, a gang linked to the Juarez cartel.
According to Jorge, Juarez was set to see more violence between factions vying for control of narcotics flowing through and being sold in the city.
“The war is because the people of Sinaloa [cartel] want to [sell crystal meth] and we aren’t going to leave,” Jorge said in November. “There are orders to do whatever in order to not permit any of that.”
In the months since, violence in Ciudad Juarez, which sits just over the border from El Paso, Texas, has remained elevated.
- Christopher Woody/Mexican government data
The city had 470 homicides in 2016, according to federal statistics, marking the first annual increase since 2012, when fighting between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels eased.
Some experts said 95% of Juarez’s homicides in 2016 were related to organized crime.
According to federal data, Juarez had 446 homicides through September, putting it on pace for nearly 600 homicides this year.
Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada said this summer that the violence was directly related to fragmentation of and fighting between organized-crime groups.
Jorge Arnaldo Nava Lopez, prosecutor for Chihuahua’s North Zone, also attributed the increase in homicides to organized crime, tying some to internal fighting among criminal groups – in particular to the elimination of people involved in the sale of crystal meth, which has become a focal point for conflict between criminal groups in the city.
The groups fighting over Juarez’s local drug sales are also involved in the competition for control of major trafficking routes into the US.
Juarez “is a key entry point for drugs into the United States,” Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, told Business Insider.
“It’s a major artery, and by controlling that Juarez-El Paso corridor, it means that you can maximize your profits,” he added, “because you can funnel a hell of a lot more drugs through there.”
- REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
La Linea is still active and believed to aligned with the Juarez cartel, which has reemerged as player in the area. The Barrio Azteca gang, another Juarez ally, is believed to be heavily involved in cross-border drug trafficking and local drug sales. The Sinaloa and the Jalisco New Generation cartels, both major groups, are also believed to be fighting for control of trafficking in area, adding to the violence.
Criminal groups in Juarez, like elsewhere in Mexico, have fragmented and diversified, branching out into crimes like extortion, kidnapping, human smuggling, and retail drug sales, which is also called narcomenudeo. While smaller groups are local in scope, they are typically more predatory and add to the violence.
“It’s like other parts of the country where you have remnants of the Zetas or remnants of the Gulf cartel,” Vigil said of Juarez. “You have these little, tiny splinters – as many as 10, 15 – fighting for local drug sales.”
The military, which deployed to the city between 2008 and 2012, was sent back to the city this summer. Military officials saidthe troops would work in coordination with other security bodies in the city, in contrast to previous operations where they operated independently, which led to complaints of abuses.
The violence has not been limited to Ciudad Juarez.
The municipal security chief in the state capital, Chihuahua city, said in late August that killings there had been carried out by hit men who had traveled from Juarez, though he couldn’t link them to a specific group.
In September, 15 people were killed and eight wounded in an attack on a drug-rehabilitation center in the capital.The killings are thought to be related to fighting between the Barrio Azteca and Mexicles gangs, which were on opposite sides during the Sinaloa-Juarez war. Barrio Azteca is also suspected of involvement in several deadly shootings at nightclubs in the capital.
- REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
The state’s rugged western sierra connects the northern edge of the Golden Triangle -known for intense marijuana and opium cultivation – to areas along the US border, making the zone valuable to traffickers, who’ve clashed in the area. Some officials have linked the violence there to fighting in Juarez.
This month, fighting between about 100 heavily armed men belonging to factions of the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels paralyzed a rural area in the state’s west, as outgunned police had to wait for backup from state and military personnel.
Amid the uptick in violence, Chihuahua also saw a change in governor. Such political shifts have been blamed for rising violence in much of Mexico, as criminal groups try to adjust to new political leadership.
- REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
Javier Corral of the rightist National Action Party took over for Cesar Duarte of the center-right Institutional Revolutionary Party in October 2016. (Duarte is one of a number of PRI governors who’ve been accused of corruption.)
Between Corral taking office and August this year, there was a 60% increase in homicides in the state, rising to 1,733 from 1,080 over the same period a year before.
Corral has tried to address the rise in violence (which began before he took office), working with the federal government to develop rapid-reaction forces and deploying police to western municipalities to confront organized-crime activity and audit local police forces believed to be compromised by criminal groups. But his response hasalso been criticized as insufficient.
“I think we had very valuable time lost in the first months of the state and municipal administrations,” Gabriel Garcia Cantu, a PAN member and president of the Public Security Commission in the state congress, told El Diario. “There wasn’t the coordination that we wanted, I think [that] was the biggest problem that was had in the area of security, by the different political groups.”
Corral has pointed to the appointment of his predecessor’s public prosecutor as public-security chief in Juarez as a reason for poor coordination, but others blamed his austerity policies for hindering security forces.
- REUTERS/Jose Luiz Gonzalez
“You need to buy helicopters, bulletproof vests, heavy vehicles to traverse the Sierra de Chihuahua, the hiring of more personnel” to confront heavily armed criminal groups, Cantu said.
State officials have said their efforts to root out unfit police has been successful, but some residents and local officials have accused forces sent into their areas of abuses like robbery and extortion, and some have compared Corral’s crime strategy to the federal government’s “kingpin strategy” that many believe has led to increased violence.
Police in Juarez, like many local police forces in Mexico, have long been accused of corruption or complicity in criminal activity. Residents have said for some time that underlying causes of the city’s violence – like poverty, impunity, or weak institutions – persist.
“I would also have to contribute a lot of [criminality] to the fact that the local authorities in Juarez have always been and continue to be enormously corrupt,” Vigil told Business Insider. “They take sides with the different cartels. They take money from the different cartels, so they do nothing to try to stem the violence that’s taking place there … and my personal opinion is that it’s gotten worse than what it was.”