March 25th, 2009
01:36 PM ET

No matter where you look, the border is a mess

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/25/art.cops1.jpg caption="Cops on patrol in Juarez, Mexico."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/25/art.ocean.border.jpg caption="At one site of the California/Mexico border"]

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

Over the past month I have been to every major city on both sides of the Mexico border. I’ve been covering the drug war and I’ve seen how it is affecting so many people on both sides.

There have been many eye-opening experiences. But nothing remains as vivid in my mind as the morgue in Juarez, Mexico.

It was a bloody week toward the end of February. Numerous cops had been killed throughout the week and the cartels were threatening to kill even more. My photographer, Gil DeLaRosa, and I walked into the morgue and couldn’t believe what we saw.

There wasn’t enough room to fit the bodies that were piling up. There was a cop laid out on a steel stretcher, his body riddled with bullet wounds. Bodies were stacked in every direction. Many were destined for mass graves they hadn’t been claimed and remained unidentified.

[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."]

One week later we went to Baja, Mexico. The resort towns along the coast are dying as tourists don’t visit them anymore. We were nearby by when police discovered three headless bodies close to the Tijuana shores. All were missing their hands and one body missing feet. There was a note with the word “snitch” on the bodies.

As we were setting up for a live on the air outside of the only open club in the area, a bar owner walked up to us in desperation. His business was dying, he said, and he could only afford to keep it open two days a week. He was hoping someone - anyone - would walk in the door. The beautiful beaches were completely empty. Hotels were without guests and restaurants had only a few local patrons.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/03/13/art.mexico.cardonas.jpg caption="Teen killers tattoo of death."]

Days later, we moved on to Laredo, Texas, where we worked on a story about how some drug cartels recruit American teens to be assassins on the U.S. side of the border. These kids would sit around playing video games waiting for the call to kill. They were paid $500 a week to be available. They would get paid approximately $10,000 – $50,000 for a kill.

We listened to hours of police interrogation tape from Rosalio Reta who had his first hit when he was 13. He talked with pride about how good it made him feel to kill someone with a gun. He said he felt like “superman” and when the cartel members who encouraged him to kill asked for the gun back, Reta said it was like “taking candy from a baby.” The kids tattooed their bodies with their patron saint of death.

Now we are back on the El Paso/Juarez border to continue our reporting on the violence. The amount of death, kidnapping, violence and extortion is horrible. But what amazes me are the people who have to live through this every day of their lives.

There are people on both sides of the border that have to confront this as part of their daily lives. They are good, hard working people who didn’t ask for any of this. It’s for them that I hope this war can be resolved and that Mexico can return to what it once was.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Ismael Estrada • Mexico
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