BY DAVID AGREN
THE ARCHDIOCESE of Mexico City has called on the federal government to change its strategy in the ongoing crackdown on organised crime as the death toll nationwide rose to an estimated 16,000.
The admonishment, published in the archdiocese’s publication Desde la Fe last week came in response to the massacre of at least 15 people – mostly teenagers – at a party in Ciudad Juarez, where a turf war between rival cartels has turned the city into one of the world’s most dangerous urban areas.
The editorial said: “Violence in Mexico has reached... dramatic and disturbing limits, particularly in Ciudad Juarez.
“The decomposition of the social fabric doesn’t just respond to government decisions, nor does its solution simply lie in anti-crime strategies. Global crime prevention programmes are urgently needed that range from morals to religion to civics.” Fr Hesiquio Trevizo, spokesman for the Diocese of Ciudad Juarez, echoed those remarks, telling the American Catholic News Service that a change of strategy was necessary due to the increasing allegations of human rights abuses against the soldiers and police officers patrolling the streets.
“The number of deaths hasn’t decreased, but instead has increased,” Fr Trevizo said.
The call for a change of strategy reflects rising public dissatisfaction with the government’s three-year crackdown on narcotics trafficking cartels, the rising levels of violence and brutality and the rising number of allegations of human rights abuses and corruption against the military, which has been rated in public opinion surveys as one of the nation’s most respected institutions.
It also reflects shortcomings in the ongoing crackdown in Ciudad Juarez and the northern state of Chihuahua, where a joint initiative of the federal, state and municipal governments to fight the cartels has failed to stem the violence.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon admitted after the massacre that the crackdown in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua had failed to produce satisfactory results and promised to overhaul the federal government’s approach.
Mr Calderon also provoked outrage in Ciudad Juarez when he initially said the massacre was the result of warring criminal gangs. He later backed away from that position.
Chihuahua state officials reported having arrested two suspects in the slayings, who said they took orders from cartel leaders. Interior Secretary Fernando Gomez-Mont personally apologised to the families and said none of the victims were mixed up in gang or cartel activities.
Fr Trevizo, who was among the religious, business and civic leaders who met Mr Gomez-Mont in Ciudad Juarez, said partisan politics and power struggles among the various levels of government have hampered the ongoing crackdown.
“One of our most urgent calls [during the meeting] was for better co-ordination between the various levels of government,” he said.
“Paradoxically, organised crime is very organised. It has enormous organisational abilities and similar efficiencies. Our governments [meanwhile] continue fighting with each other... It’s a regrettable contradiction.” The crackdown on narcotics trafficking cartels has claimed more than 16,000 lives since Calderon took office in December 2006. The violence has only worsened in 2010 with more than 970 deaths attributed to organised crime so far this year – and 206 deaths alone in the first week of February – according to a count in the newspaper Reforma.
The appetite among the Mexican public for continuing with the battle against the cartels appears to be waning.
A poll published last week by Maria de las Heras in the newspaper Milenio found that 70 per cent of Chihuahua residents felt the level of insecurity was the same or worse since soldiers first arrived in the state in 2007.