The Drug War Next Door

Almost 24,000 people have died in Mexico's drug war since 2006, nearly five times the number of US troop deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. An NPR investigation suggests that the Mexican government is helping one cartel rule Ciudad Juarez.

The Mexican government, under President Felipe Calderon, receives $1.3 billion annually in US military and judicial aid to fight the cartels. But according interviews with former police commanders, politicians and citizens in Juarez, Calderon's government is helping the Sinaloa cartel take over the streets of the city, which borders El Paso, Texas. President Calderon two years ago sent 10,000 troops to Juarez to fight the cartels.

Sinaloa boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera has a $5 million bounty on his head, and is battling elements of La Linea cartel for control of the city. One woman told NPR that, "Chapo wants to take over Juarez but those with La Linea don't want to give it up. This is why there's so much killing." But many in La Linea are switching sides as the tide turns in favor of Sinaloa. Locally, they're called grasshoppers.

A former Juarez police commander told NPR that, "The intention of the army is to try and get rid of the Juarez cartel, so that Chapo's cartel is the strongest." He continued, "[…] Chapo's people contacted the army and figured out what they were doing and how much money they wanted. They started to pay them off, and the Sinaloans just kept working."

The Mexican military is allegedly directly involved in the movement of drugs across the border, too. In 2006, a Mexican army Humvee got stuck in the Rio Grande River trying to cross into Texas loaded with weed. Hudspeth County Sheriff Arvin West said in court testimony, "When the deputies arrived at the border, where the drug loads were to cross, the deputies were met with the Mexican military in a military Humvee. The deputies reported seeing heavily armed soldiers in the Humvee. The deputies took a defensive position while the Humvee and load vehicles crossed back into Mexico."

The news director of Juarez TV Channel 44, Edgar Roman, told NPR, "When you're out on the streets of Juarez and you hear constantly from people that are eyewitnesses, relatives of victims, they're saying prior to the killings the army was here. They left here and armed men came and killed somebody."

As of the first week in May, 3,233 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war in 2010.

[Image Getty]