In Juarez, authorities fight drug cartels one street corner at a time

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As U.S. enforcement hardens, criminals peddle drugs in Mexico to make up for losses, driving murder rates up in the process

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — It’s not easy to preserve law and order in a city besieged by three major drug cartels. But in the case of Juarez, police are picking their fights one street corner at a time.

In an interview with Border Report, Chihuahua state Police Commission Director Óscar Alberto Aparicio Avendaño blamed Juarez’s escalating violence on street-level drug sales.

As of Monday, this Mexican city of 1.5 million people across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, had recorded 1,388 murders in 2019, including a handful of American citizens. Aparicio said more than 80 percent of those killings were drug-related.

“The violence we are living in Ciudad Juarez stems from the sale of drugs, particularly crystal meth. Both in Juarez and in our state of Chihuahua four out of five killings have to do with the distribution of drugs,” the state police director said.

An alleged member of the Sinaloa cartel was caught driving a car with dozens of ‘bricks’ of marijuana. (photo courtesy Juarez Public Safety Secretariat)

According to Austin-based Stratfor Global Intelligence, at least three transnational criminal organizations have a strong presence in Juarez. They include the Sinaloa cartel, Cartel Jalisco New Generation and La Linea (the old Juarez cartel).

These groups mostly operate by proxy — hiring local gangs to transport drugs into the United States and, increasingly, peddling drugs inside Mexican territory. In a previous interview, Chihuahua Deputy Attorney General Jorge Nava explained that, as U.S. border enforcement has hardened since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, transnational criminal organizations have tried to make up for the loses developing an internal Mexican sales market.

An automatic rifle, two guns and ammunition were seized from gang members after Juarez’s “night of terror” on Nov. 5. (photo courtesy Chihuahua State Police Commission)

Aparicio said the latter is what’s driving the murder rate up and prompting police to go after these cartel foot-soldiers.

“They are street dealers for bigger organizations and, in some cases, also their triggermen. Through our investigations we have found out that many times the people who commit murders are also involved in drug sales,” Aparicio said.

Just in the past three weeks, authorities in Juarez have detained a score of drug cartel foot soldiers, seized thousands of drug packages and an arsenal of weapons, all of that on city streets.

On Nov. 4, police arrested a member of the “Barrio Azteca” gang when they stopped a vehicle reported as stolen. The car belonged to a murder victim. Hours later, state officers investigating a kidnapping in the same neighborhood were shot at. The assailants were caught driving a car transporting marijuana and cocaine.

On Nov. 7, police detained four members of the “Mexicles” gang for setting public transportation buses and private vehicles on fire, in response to a police raid of a prison where their leaders were still running a drug-trafficking operation.

One of the 10 public transportation buses burned by members of the “Mexicles” earlier this month. (photo courtesy Juarez Public Safety Secretariat)

In the wake of violence that left eight people dead and 15 vehicles ablaze in the span of a few hours, police also arrested four drug addicts who had been paid with “crystal” to light up the vehicles and another five members of the “Mexicles” carrying two guns as an assault rifle.

On Nov. 16, two members of the “Gente Nueva” gang were taken into custody while driving a vehicle carrying 5 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine. Three days earlier, another member of the gang was arrested driving around a vehicle with 27 pounds of marijuana.

And this past Sunday, five additional “Mexicles” were busted driving around a neighborhood in a vehicle with guns and one AK-47 rifle concealed under the seats.

“There’s not a single day or week that we don’t detain at least one dealer or seize drugs or weapons,” Aparicio said. “We are certain that these constant arrests are disrupting the operations of the drug cartels, having an impact on their business.”

The state police director said the bulk of the murders and drug activity takes place in working-class neighborhoods with little police presence, a lack of night lighting and many social problems. “They are marginalized neighborhoods with insidiously high criminality. Many are on the fringes (of Juarez). They are areas far from places most tourists would visit,” Aparicio said.

An alleged member of the ‘Gente Nueva’ gang was arrested in a vehicle transporting these “bricks” of marijuana. (photo courtesy Chihuahua State Police Commission)

However, drug hits sometimes occur near the border crossings. Twice in the past three months shootings have been reported in the vicinity of Juarez Avenue, the main drag to El Paso that is currently being remodeled into a “Walk of Lights.”

And people on both sides of the border are still talking about the Nov. 5 “Night of Terror” attributed to the Mexicles. It was an attempt by a drug gang to get authorities off their back, much like the October takeover of Culiacan, Sinaloa, by cartel members seeking to free the son of jailed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

The violence unleashed by the “Mexicles” has been contained, their leaders are still in jail and authorities — not the criminals — are in control of the city, the police official says.

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The mission of BorderReport.com is to provide real-time delivery of the untold local stories about people living, working and migrating along the U.S. border with Mexico. The information is gathered by experienced and trusted Nexstar Media Group journalists hired specifically to cover the border.

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