Not a day goes by in Mexico without the powerful drug cartels gaining more ground.
On Thursday, a dozen sodiers were arrested on suspicion of working with the infamous Gulf Cartel. It was a hard blow for president Felipe Calderon, who has made fighting organised crime a priority since coming to power in 2006. The arrests come as Calderon said he would deploy thousands more troops to the violent border city of Ciudad Juarez. Just across the border from El Paso in Texas, Ciudad Juarez has become one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Every day, bodies are exhibited in the streets, hung or decapitated. At nightfall, gangs settle their scores. “We see this kind of thing every day,” said one onlooker following another night of violence. “It’s the norm here. As you can see, children watch and see dead bodies. It’s a common sight.” In 2008, an estimated 5,300 people were killed in drug-related violence – that’s nearly twice as many victims compared to a year earlier, 1,600 of them in Ciudad Juarez alone. The cartels earn some 10 billion dollars a year trafficking narcotics to the US, their main customer. Ciudad Juarez has therefore become the bloodiest flashpoint in Calderon’s war against drugs, with some of the most powerful cartels fighting for control of the lucrative smuggling routes through the city. A business which attracts some of the most violent crime: el “pozolero” – the “stew maker” – arrested earlier this year admitted to dissolving some 300 bodies in acid. At 600 dollars a body, that’s more than he earned as a builder. Apart from deploying extra troops in Ciudad Juarez, authorities have also started using the first installments of a US aid fund for the war against drugs to try to weed out corruption – a huge task according to this official: “Authorities at all levels – federal, state or municipal – are infiltrated by organised crime. So how do we confront or get rid of this problem, how can we fight this battle when we don’t even have proper soldiers or a proper army?,” asks Victor Valencia, spokesman for the governor of the state of Chihuahua. Despite the millions of US dollars poured into Mexico’s fight against the drug cartels, it seems the narcotics business remains a healthy one in these times of crisis.