February 26th, 2009
06:00 AM ET

This is not the Mexico I remember

Program Note: Tune in for a full report tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/25/art.juarez.bags.hat.jpg caption="Inside the morgue – the belongings of victims killed in the violence."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/02/25/art.juarez.closeup1.jpg caption="A blood-stained helmet of a police officer killed in Juarez, Mexico."]

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

I was born and raised on the border. I have spent my life going over to Mexico for vacations, dinners, fun and family events. I’ve also had many opportunities to cover stories south of the US border in cities like Tijuana, Nogales, Nuevo Laredo and Juarez.

The bloodshed that is happening today in Mexico is eye opening. There has always been violence. It’s the nature of doing illegal business in Mexico– people die. But today is much different than anything I have ever seen.

Last week, I went with Michael Ware and photojournalist Gil Delarosa to do a story on the violence in Juarez. It’s a city of about 1.8 million people just south of El Paso, Texas.

Last year there were 1600 murders in Juarez. So far in the first two months of this year, 400 dead. Beheadings, torture killings and bloodied streets are happening on a daily basis.

The reason I say this is different this time is not because of the sheer numbers. Most of the cartels members are killing each other — but they are getting more brazen. They are targeting cops, public officials and innocent people are getting caught in the crossfire.

We interviewed a husband and daughter of a woman from El Paso who was a victim to the violence. A loving wife and devoted mother, Marisela Molinar worked for a prosecutor in Juarez. She was giving him a ride to America to do some Christmas shopping. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. On Dec. 3 gunmen targeted the prosecutor… blasting the car with 85 shots. They were both killed.

While in Juarez we saw a city on high alert. Threats were made against the chief of police if he didn’t resign. Several cops had been killed the week before and one just that morning. Shops and bars all along the streets just across the border are now closed. Americans who used to cross the border to party and shop no longer come here.

The city’s only morgue was overflowing with bodies, too many for this small facility to handle. On one end was a cartel member, full of gun shot wounds. On the other end, the body of the cop who had been killed earlier that morning lay lifeless. His blood-stained helmet and boots were placed along with 20 bags of clothing. These are clothes that belonged to the 20 victims from the week before.

This is definitely not the Mexico I remember.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Ismael Estrada
soundoff (81 Responses)
  1. Emilio

    It is time that the US realizes that their drug addictions and what they believe to be "harmless" marijuana use is funding some of the most terrible violent criminals in the world. That a big proportion of the USA believes that an accomplished athlete just because he is 23, and won plenty of Gold medals, has the right to relax and enjoy some "harmless" dope is really shortsighted view of the world and the consequences of globalization. Every illegal drug user (including marijuana) in the USA should be asking for forgiveness to all the Mexican and Latin American people for funding this criminals and murderers with their recreational activities and the suffering their choices have brought to so many innocent people.
    The best thing that could happen to Latin America is for the USA to legalize all kinds of drugs so they stop sending their money to these warlord criminals.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:34 pm |
  2. NotHacked

    US can help and save Mexico if the Federal Government would legalize Marijuana. The US would be able to control distribution and collect taxes, which they love! The US would save billions in revenue, and in return – like gambling and taxes have a new source of revenue! Additionally, it would help the US failing economy, along with Mexico’s economy. The criminals would loose out completely!
    But maybe our US leaders want the conflict on the war & drugs to continue, after all it justifies budgets!!

    February 27, 2009 at 11:40 am |
  3. Michael Gabriel

    I am originally from South Texas and grew up in this region (Rio Grande Valley). For the past 2 years I've been living in Matamoros Mexico. It is disturbing to see the change this country is going through.
    For far too many years the government in Mexico turned a blind eye to the cartels' entrenchment into the country. Now that a shift in focus by this new administration has caused problems for these cartels, an eruption in violence against law enforcement has been the result.
    Local law enforcement has been ineffective due to corruption, intimidation, attacks, etc., leaving Calderon only one logical choice, the army.
    It is just as disturbing to see the stance, or lack thereof, that the US government has chosen to take. I do believe that as coverage escalates the restructure of policy relations between the US & Mexico will have to be revamped to properly address the drug flow from Mexico to the US and the flow of weapons and drug money from the US to Mexico.

    February 27, 2009 at 11:05 am |
  4. Bruce

    I am from El Paso, TX, and Juarez was always referred to as its Sister City – if the US isn't careful, it will soon become a conjoined twin. I recall going into Juarez to party, being stopped by the policia without cause, and having to pay them off – they have their own special reputation. I remember two fellas that didn't know each other being accused for the same crime. The politicians using stolen vehicles. Juarez represents corruption from the bottom up. Don't kid yourself, there are many cartel within the ranks. Close off the border and implement stringent immigration laws (this would alleviate the drug running to the US users, too) and provide Mexico with support, as you would any third world country. Viva Mexico and Viva mi Amigo's from Mexico!

    February 27, 2009 at 10:59 am |
  5. Angie

    By the time we realize how serious this is and how strongly it's going to impact the United States, it's going to have spilled over to our country as well. There are already killings happening in the United States as part of what's going on in Mexico (mainly in El Paso), but we've been lucky so far. If something isn't done that works, we're going to get a huge slap in the face.
    Leaving this up to the Mexican army is not working. The time to use the army would've been *before* the cartels out-gunned them. The problem goes deeper as well. It goes to those officials who allow themselves to be threatened or bought into submission by the cartels.
    The time to come up with a better solution is now. The longer we wait, the more carnage there will be.

    My sympathies go out to those families who have been touched by the violence in Mexico. My prayers also go out to the families of the many innocent young women who have been kidnapped in Mexico and are still missing without any investigations being done.

    February 27, 2009 at 10:58 am |
  6. In DC

    Well, Donna, that might be a very partial solution. Most of the drug money for Mexico, however, is coming from cocaine. Do we really want to legalize that? Can you imagine the destroyed lives? The societal problems we have with alcoholism and the health effects of cigarettes (to name two legal drugs) would pale in comparison. Absolutely pale.

    And G. Martinez, you have some very valid points, but you are over-posting and sounding shrill, which is destroying your message. Try to post when you are less angry, and your arguments will be easier to hear.

    February 27, 2009 at 8:36 am |
  7. Joe

    America in fact, created the cartel problem. The U.S. still
    insists on stupidly keeping marijuana illegal, despite that
    alchohal, a more powerful intoxicant is legal. and available
    for consumtion, and openly promoted as O.K. Also the root
    of marijuana prohibition was to drive out Mexican imigrants
    in the 1930's. this all started here in Texas. The cnn footage
    of the confiscated contraband cleary shows pressed kilos
    of marijuana. Although cocain and heroin no doubt play
    a part in this, the main cash cow for these cartels seems to
    be marijuana, a plant very hardy and easy to grow. a plant
    that grew in almost every part of the u.s. before 1930. The
    U.S. drug policy on marijuana is based on arcane moronic
    stupidity, lies and un-truths. No better example of this
    can be found than the re-clasification of marijuana as a
    "psycadelic drug". marijuana is neither a "psycadelic" nor
    "a powerful mind altering drug" in fact it might make you sleepy.
    Lies when promoted as the truth always lead to utter
    disaster, as in the iraq war. Is a little plant realy worth
    all this murder and blood? tell me Anderson, this is
    all hapening in my back yard where i raise my kids, while
    are government plays games with reality and peoples
    lives!! did i mention our national incarceration problem?
    whatever a persons feeling about marijuana use,the
    fact is the arcane laws against it wreak with hipocracy, and are by standard morally wrong, these laws case far
    more damage to health lives and property than the
    plant ever possibly could. Wake up america, or suffer
    the consequences.

    February 27, 2009 at 3:45 am |
  8. Karen

    I relocated to El Paso, TX with my family almost 3 years ago. We used to go over to Cd. Juarez often for good food and shopping. But no more. It is like a war zone My husband still has to cross the border everyday to manage an American interest there. There are many here like him. Keep showing America what's happening here everyday and just keeps getting worse.

    February 27, 2009 at 3:16 am |
  9. Pat

    I see we can send troops thousands of miles away to control and ffight wars for other people who are creating a danger for us in America, but we don't send troops to stop the war that is in walking distants of our borders. Whatever happened to Marshall Law. If it take this to stop people from bring drugs across the border, than this is what it takes. DO IT PERIOD,

    February 27, 2009 at 3:13 am |
  10. Gaby C

    This is an interesting piece, hoever, it fails to mention Juarez's women. This is a serious issue that has been going on for way too long. Hundreds (some say thousands) of women who are working in sweat shop type factories are being exploited by cheap labor and are physically and sexually abused to death going to and from work. Yes, this drug war is violating many laws, however, the crisis of Juarez's women is violating human rights. Action needs to be taken. A piece on this issue would definately provide more awareness and more hope for aid.

    February 27, 2009 at 3:11 am |
  11. Bryan Adams

    G. Martinez ranting about the Bush and Cheney and the Iraq war, blaming the Catholic Church and implying Protestants are somehow superior.

    Way to stay on point and relevant. You're a genius and you should be made king of the world.

    By the way not one person in this thread is "blaming the immigrants". And the "$360 billion going to buddies of the the former administration". And your point is???? POh I see it now – Mexico's problems are indeed ORCHESTRATED by the racist Republicans. Thanks for your uncanny insight.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:37 am |
  12. R.Garcia

    My brother and I spent summer and Christmas vacations in central Mexico and as a result grew to appreciate and be very proud of our culture. We learned to appreciate the priviliges of being U.S. cit., but more importantly we learned how to adapt in a small town where electricity went out if storms were bad, where our clothes were hand-washed, where we roamed the entire town freely with cousins without fears of kidnappings, drugs or any of the fears that made my parents overprotective here in the U.S. My husband and I always imagined sending our children to Mexico so they may grow to have these same experiences and appreciation of their heritage and to love both countries. But after hearing and seeing how these criminals are taking over and instilling fear even in our small remote town, we don't feel safe going and will likely be canceling future trips much less will we be sending our children. The worst part is that friends and family I know are canceling routine trips as well, and this will definitely be affecting Mexico's already struggling economy. I don't even know what the U.S. can do, but they better do something. The media is finally addressing an issue that has been brewing in Mexico for a couple of years but I don't think our politicians are getting the seriousness of the affect this can and will have on our states this side of the border and eventually in all of the U.S. Of course they may see this as an issue they can move to the bottom of the list while they try to clean up the mess here at home. I don't know, maybe the world is coming to an end or maybe like a bad drug addict everything needs to hit rock bottom before it bounces back, but then again not all addicts recover. I hate to sound negative but I feel my life as well as so many others are being robbed of our right to visit our families, and to celebrate holidays as we always have. With a newborn and a toddler it is not worth the risk to be caught at the wrong place at the wrong time.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:33 am |
  13. JamesT

    I called in on c-span about 10 years ago when Senator Conyers returned from a trip to the cartels in Columbia. It was live call in.
    My question was " How would the drug lords vote on legalizing drugs,
    Yes or No, and how would you vote on legalizing drugs, yes or no.
    I didnt get an answer. When drug lords were asked, they said No. It would put them out of business.
    We need to revisit this option, On the local grocery store I saw that the Stevia Leaf was 50% more profitable than growing cocaine, and it;s legal. Use the billions for treatment centers and education rather than than the war on drugs. we are a free country. We cant do what other countries have done.Kill the cocaine users, which worrks there,

    February 27, 2009 at 12:22 am |
  14. Rick

    Juarez and some of the other border towns are extremely dangerous but it is not omnipresent through out Mexico. This is another example of sensational journalism that doesn't cover all the bases. For example, CNN ran an article about the dangers of kidnapping in Mexico a few months back and everyone in the states now thinks they will be kidnapped if they go to mexico. I have lived in Guadalajara for years and the risk of getting kidnapped here is as low as it is anywhere in states. How many US citizens have actually gotten kidnapped here? Where is the data? Any major US city such as LA, Chicago, Philly, NYC, and Philly has examples of random people that get killed. What is the answer? Move back to the suburbs? Good luck.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:18 am |
  15. Gary

    Well legalizing pot might be a good idea, but can pot replace the hard drugs that addicts crave?

    February 27, 2009 at 12:17 am |
  16. C A

    Most of the citizens in central Mexico are in denial, about the violence that the country is having right now, and that makes this matter even worst. If the people does not want to see the problem, how are they going to do something about it.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:16 am |
  17. Carl Deal

    The violence in Mexico and the ever growing threat of drug violence against Mexico's sovereignty is a direct consequence of America's expensive habit for illegal drugs. If American's were not such glutenous pigs when it comes to snorting coke on weekends, lighting up crack in an alley, cranking up to drive a truck or tear off a roof – or because we're just bored, or looking for X at the slut puppy bar on every college campus in the country etc.etc. Mexico would still be the placid, beautiful and culturally rich place it once was.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:12 am |
  18. sr

    I resent that comment against the Catholic Church wich does enormous amounts of good works all aver Latin America and the world.I've seen just as many corrupt and gangsta evangelists as I have catholics.Like it or not,the Catholic Church is part of the cultural identity of all Latin America no matter how many people you evangelists and mormons poach and mislead.Alot is the fault of the local Catholic Church themselves for loosing adherents but that is also due to lack of resources and many latin govts have hobbled the church in the past with restrictions.About the drugs,its the users here in the USA and Europe who are to blame,no users,no drug use then no cartels or cartel violence.Latin countries are paying the price of corruption,greed and neglect.Its so sad.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:12 am |
  19. Al

    This violence won't stop unless we legalize drugs. Period.

    No criminal organization has risen to such heights of power if they haven't controlled a drug trade.

    I don't relish the thought of letting junkies roam free but they're much more manageable and a public nuisance compared to the gangs that amass millions in cash (and in arms) who profit from the black market. It took decades to undo the damage to NY. LA and Chicago's political and law enforcement structures after we made alcohol an overnight source of extreme revenue.

    And you will never, ever "win" the drug war. Hell, people make up new drugs or just sniff paint/glue if they can't find them. It's a never-ending path that gives these gangs money and ultimately power over law abiding citizens.

    If Prohibition had not been repealed, the US be a nation run by Capone's and Luciano's right now.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:11 am |
  20. M. villa

    G.F., Los Angeles, people tried marching before, for better schools, the students' bodies to this day haven't all been found, marching is not going to help anything in Mexico, a revolution and lots of dead would probably be the only way.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:10 am |
  21. Tikko Torrez

    Just a few facts:
    1) The story of the dead girl stuffed with drugs has been a urban legend and internet rumor for years – it's fake.
    2) Mexico is millions of square miles, if you take out tijanan, juarez and a couple other border towns, the majority of the country is far safer than public housing in most US cities.
    3) professional kidnapers in mexico know there victims. They do not prey on toursist because they need to make at least 25-50k per kidnapping and target rich individuals (mostly business people) who they know can fork over that kind of dough.

    So while yes the numbers are staggering, and the pagentry of cut off heads are dramatic, far less people die from a drug killing in Mexico as do car accidents in the US...

    February 27, 2009 at 12:09 am |
  22. Jorge Quintana

    This reminds me growing up in Colombia 20 years ago. Same issues, drug lords fighting each other and killing cops, car bombs and a just terrified citizens. The only way out was a strong government willing to crack down on them and some useful help of the US. Although it is not completely over yet at least it is much better and we can at least live a normal life.

    It will get worse until it gets better...

    February 27, 2009 at 12:09 am |
  23. vikkk

    Boycott marijuana for a week. I am serious! Sure, marijuana is only a small part of the drug trade. Probably wouldn't work with heroin or meth as they are too addictive; but I could go a week w/o, no problem. Imagine if everyone that smokes pot just stopped buying, even for a couple days, the money lost would be in the milliions!! Just a thought....

    February 27, 2009 at 12:01 am |
  24. Get a grip

    G Martinez your opinions on race, religion, and the socio economic situation are disgusting.
    I grew up going across the border, my kids will not.

    February 27, 2009 at 12:01 am |
  25. E. Guadarrama

    This situation was avoidable, at least in part. Our last administration focused all US efforts and finances on Iraq, leaving the drug lords next door, just over the border to gain momentum and go unchecked. We took our hands off the wheel. Cartels will take advantage of the slightest misstep in a country's leadership. They are swift and deadly. They are now using barbarian terror tactics in an attempt to force their own government to back off. If people are frightened badly enough, the drug lords become untouchable. If enough foreigners stay away and stop spending money on tourism in Mexico, the government will reduce pressure on them. In so many ways, this is a direct bi-product of careless behavior at a time when there is no room for error.

    February 26, 2009 at 11:56 pm |
  26. Tamal10

    What happened in Chicago during prohibition? There was a violence between Al Capone and the likes of him. What ended the violence? It was not Eliot Ness, but the end of prohibition.

    We should do the same again, end the prohibition. Install Government run clinics, where user can get good quality drugs for free and treatment if they want it. If we remove the incentive to make billions of dollars from the drug trade, the violence will end.

    February 26, 2009 at 11:53 pm |
  27. MizMitz

    This wouldn't be the "monster" that it is, in Mexico or anywhere, were it not for the cops, politicians and judges on the take, as well as the money-laundering banks. Sure there are good guys and victims, but pleez, let's not kid ourselves about the role of corruption at every level in this.

    February 26, 2009 at 11:52 pm |
  28. Terrance

    Over and over people repeat, ... "The corrupt Mexican government," but that government is overwhelmingly supported by the people of Mexico - not unanimously, but enough that they're still in power.

    Yes times are tough. That's no excuse.

    Second, every single dime spent on killings in Mexico, comes from America. Using illegal drugs makes you an accessory to murder.

    No don't legalize drugs. Don't support their use.

    February 26, 2009 at 11:47 pm |
  29. K.Ross

    Time to build the wall and deport them all. We should have our military bases located along the border too. Good training.

    February 26, 2009 at 11:39 pm |
  30. Derek MacPhail

    The US has only to look in the mirror to see where part of the blame lays. Enough of the "war on drugs" and the exportation of that war to foreign soils like Mexico, Central and South America.

    February 26, 2009 at 11:38 pm |
  31. john burbidge

    Forget the "war the drugs", legalize it. Didn't we learn anything from prohibition? Sadly, most US citizens blame Mexico for their drug problem.

    The US consumes more than their share of drugs per capita, just like our "addiction to oil" We are also addicted to drugs. Just like oil, this addiction costs lives. Not only the wasted lives of users, but of the people across the border who aren't usually considered. It is far from a "victimless crime"

    The war on drugs has left both countries worse off, billions of dallors spent fighting the wars, not to mention incarseration costs. Violence, guns and money for corruption flow south. All with no end in sight.

    Why not get the pushers off the street, let physicians treat drug abusers, and "sin" tax the drugs to partially offset costs. Sadly, we won't save everyone, not even in our great society is this a realistic goal. But criminalizing it hasn't worked either.

    February 26, 2009 at 11:33 pm |
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