De la Rosa, who has resolved dozens of cases of illegal military detentions since 2008, didn't take the threats, including telephone calls and being followed into gas station bathrooms and accused of being in cohorts with traffickers, all that seriously. But in August, one of his bodyguards was detained, held overnight and tortured by the army.

He wrote a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights seeking help. De la Rosa lived in the Valley of Juárez, in the neighborhood of San Isidro, now mostly deserted after many of his neighbors fled.

The last straw came in October, he said, when state Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez called "to tell me they could no longer protect me, that I was going to get killed and to leave Juárez immediately. I think, honestly, they were being nice and warning me.

"But I knew then I was completely alone, that I had no institutional support at all," he said.

On October 15, De la Rosa drove across the bridge to El Paso where there was an alert for his car's license plates at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. U.S. authorities urged him to seek political asylum to ensure his safety, but he refused. He now lives in a small house in the outskirts of El Paso on a six-month tourist visa that expires in May. Meanwhile, talks with the military and state officials have allowed for his return to work in Juárez, and his office was moved inside the attorney general's office.

"I continue working for the people of Juárez. I can't leave the city to the hands of delinquents," he said. "I have to fight for the rule of law, or otherwise we will have another revolution."

De la Rosa became a human rights activist in the 1960s at the height of the country's "dirty war" in which leftist dissidents were disappeared and tortured. He won cases against the White Brigades, the military secret operatives similar to other armed forces that left tens of thousands dead in Argentina, Chile and Brazil at the time.

Under Joint Operation Chihuahua, the military has had legal authority to detain suspects. It's a murky line easily crossed in a city where anyone is suspect. In Mexico, human rights violations reportedly committed by soldiers are usually investigated by the military itself, and most go untried.

By the same token, army and federal troops are also targets of attacks by organized crime and gangs. International human rights organizations say more than 80 soldiers have been killed since 2008. Observers say it's a war of unseen fighters.

"The cartels don't act like a regular army but like guerrillas, and the proportions aren't one-to-one because the army doesn't know where and when the narcos are going to attack," said drug investigator Chabat. "There's inefficiency and corruption at all levels. The government doesn't think it has another option besides military force. But the resources are limited. Clearly it's not working."

The bloodshed has prompted all sorts of comparisons to recent history—that Mexico hasn't seen this much disdain for a government since the 1910 Mexican Revolution against dictator Porfirio Diaz and that its violence is reminiscent to the 1930s mafia wars during Prohibition in the United States. But by body count, Juárez has likely surpassed Prohibition's bootlegging bloodshed.

"We're missing the boat here in the U.S. We're at the front line of a war and Americans think it's an abstraction," said El Paso city councilman Beto O'Rourke, 37, who leads the charge locally to legalize marijuana. "The war on drugs has been an abject, miserable failure. The narcos aren't making a political statement. This isn't the FARC in Colombia...It's pure economics and one way to stop this, at least some of it, is to legalize marijuana."

Juárez was a bustling city of 1.3 million that was the fourth economic power in Mexico. It saw a boom of U.S. manufacturing factories called maquiladoras that paid Mexican workers low wages, about $4 a day, after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

But now Juárez is emptying out, and up to 100,000 people are estimated to have fled.

"A lot of my friends and all of my relatives have moved to El Paso," said one woman, also speaking on condition of anonymity. "I have two nephews who are doctors in Juárez. They still have their business over there, but they boarded it up. One of them was assaulted three times in his office. The last time it was people with guns."

It's hard to find any local government presence; the mayor of Ciudad Juárez, Jose Reyes Ferriz, runs his administration mostly from El Paso, residents say. He is a vehement supporter of the military presence in his city. In early March, a pig's head with a note reading "you're next," was found outside his Juárez residence.

"The army will remain in Juárez for the time being," he said at a news conference March 27. "It has done an excellent job and has controlled the delinquency rate, the robbery of banks and car thefts."

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Peter Breitholtz
Peter Breitholtz

juarez sounds like a scary place and i can't imagine how alive the people living there must feel; not the worst thing in the world; as for the policy, i believe it's a measure lawmakers decided would help cut down on crime and a strained budget in the state of arizona; correct me if i'm wrong; i agree this country lacks a coherent immigration policy and i believe it is simply becoming more coherent under the Obama administration, not that he supports the Arizona policy, publicly, but seriously, there are plenty of neighborhoods in this country that are just as frightening probably to live in than juarez; or at least way more frightening than they should be considering they exist on American soil; i'm beginning to believe the only policy that will work is tough policy, for now; until two things happen: 1. cartels are inspired to stop selling cocaine in the united states (mexicans consume one fifth of the cocaine americans do) and 2. start creating opportunities in cities deep within mexico that attract mexicans at the border and foreigners for that matter i believe it's time for the world to intervene; unfortunately, i don't believe any other country cares that americans continue to buy mexican drugs; i understand that americans are beginning to consume less cocaine and due to the strength of the euro, coke is being trafficked to europe where cocaine abuse is reportedly increasing; the cocaine is being moved through countries like guinea bisseau; maybe europe might start caring and a coalition could be formed to militarily overthrown el chapo; it's delicate though because i would imagine the cartel shares; although, a cartel member told me they don't; the world's big problem is lack of opportunity and a media that rubs wealth in our faces


You site the incredible violence in Northern Mexico and the power and reach of drug lords in that area, then question why we want to stop people who want to leave from that country to ours illegally? As someone who moved here from a relatively illegal immigrant free part of the country the horrible differences I see living here already are stark and undeniable.


We should prosecute criminals.

There is a problem with a Society that allows Police and Firefighters write laws and comment on their passage.

If these two groups want to write the Laws they enforce, go to an outright commie country and live there, is what I recommend to them.

The other day I heard a State Lawmaker comment that the singer that came to town should but out and mind her business in her country, and stop trying to impose her beliefs on this one.

The monkey never heard of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Latin America?

America is quickly becoming a village of idiots.

And Joe Arpaio is their king.



Hey. Pablo. Clue in. ALL laws EVER made at ANY time or ANY place are the product of the cohort that wants them. Period. You have the temerity to disagree? The essence of the existential is its banality - think it through. Good day, sir.

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