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A Report from Juarez, Mexico, the Bleeding Front Line in the War on Drugs

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"The rule of law in our democracy hangs by a thread. Those who are not corrupted cannot contain the lawlessness.

"The reason so many young men join the bloodstained hands is they would rather live one week like a king than endure a life of misery for 70 years. Our sad reality is that if you are born poor, and you don't leave the country, poverty is your destiny if you don't become a hit man."

Junco, 61, employs some 4,000 Mexican reporters and most wear bulletproof vests. Like other Mexican newspapers, Junco's dailies of Reforma, El Nortein Monterrey and Mural in Guadalajara have forgone bylines in drug stories.

Junco himself has been the target of death threats and, like prominent figures who speak out, he says he has lost faith in the Mexican government. He spends much of his time in Austin.

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission reports 60 deaths and 11 disappearances of journalists in the country since 2000. But this year, six journalists were killed and five kidnapped reporters are still missing.

The daily violence that Juárez endured almost unnoticed for nearly two years gained international attention when three people linked to the U.S. consulate, two of them Americans, were gunned down March 13, about 2:30 p.m. in what appeared to be two different coordinated attacks.

Lesley Ann Enriquez, a pregnant employee of the U.S. consulate, was leaving a children's consulate party with her husband, Arthur Redelfs, a corrections officer with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, and their 3-month-old daughter when their white Toyota was intercepted a few meters from the Santa Fe Bridge, one of the main bridges connecting to El Paso and the site of a military camp.

Almost at the same time, after leaving the same party, Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniseros, the 37-year-old husband of another U.S. consulate worker, was driving in his SUV with his children, ages 2, 4 and 7, when gunmen opened fire and killed him instantly. Salcido was a production manager of the Dallas-based technology and outsourcing company Affiliated Computer Services Inc.

The killings brought an outcry of condemnation by the United States, including President Obama.

Mexican authorities theorized that the Aztecas, which also operate in other U.S. cities besides El Paso, including Dallas and Austin, as well as in New Mexico and Arizona, are responsible for these killings, and one gang member has been arrested.

The consulate-related killings could have been random, but they came after published reports that U.S. intelligence agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI, would embed with Mexican police forces to train, advise and even supervise as part of the Merida Initiative that President Bush signed with the Calderón administration.

In Juárez, many saw a direct link between the murders and the reports of increased U.S. intervention in Mexican security matters, an affront to Mexico's sovereignty that could spawn a "narco patriotism" war, much as Colombia saw when the United States announced in the late 1980s it would extradite captured drug leaders.

"There has been such a weakening of the government's power to govern that they have to accept foreign intervention," said De la Rosa. "The narcos sent a message written in blood to Obama, and it said. 'You mess with us, and you will pay for it.'"

Among the greatest tragedies in a city of tragedy are the continuing deaths, disappearances, torture and mutilations of women that gained international attention more than a decade ago.

In 1993, the Mexican attorney general began counting the murder of women as separate crimes, or "femicides." The women, most factory workers, were turning up dead by the dozen, raped, mutilated and dumped in empty lots. From 1993-2007, more than 700 "femicide" cases were documented. In 2008, there were 87 cases, 164 in 2009 and 43 so far in 2010, according to human rights observers.

"The government is not listening to those of us who work in human rights. The disappearances and murder of women has now gotten lumped into the drug war statistics, and it's no longer a separate crime," said Irma Guadalupe Casas, director of the Casa Amiga Crisis Center in Juárez, a non-profit center that shelters women and provides legal, medical and psychological services.

Casa lawyer Brenda Lara said she's seeing women seeking shelter who are victims of domestic violence, many including wives or girlfriends of drug gangs.

"'I will kill you and nothing will happen.'...That's what their boyfriends say," said Lara, citing a 40 percent increase in women descending on the center to seek refuge and escape. "And it's true. Nothing will happen if they kill them."

Until lately, what little attention has been paid to the slaughter in Juárez has come in part from the indefatigable efforts of a librarian at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. With her daily posts of up to a half dozen articles and bulletins on the Frontier News Wire, and her constant updating of the death toll, Molly Molloy has emerged as the de facto record keeper of the violence.

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Susana Hayward