For years drug experts, security officials, and political analysts have questioned the “Colombianization” of Mexico.
Mexico had already overtaken Colombia in terms of kidnappings. The public has long gotten accustomed to a censored press, threats to politicians, and grisly violence that includes decapitation and bodies hanging from highway overpasses. Now, it appears, Mexico has moved even closer to the kind of violence that plagued the South American nation in its darkest days.
A well-orchestrated car bomb exploded in Ciudad Juarez late Thursday, across from El Paso, Texas, killing at least three and sparking panic among the Mexican population. It is the first known use of a car bomb against authorities and the local population, and marks a troubling new level of violence as traffickers seeking to control the drug trade battle one another and Mexican authorities.
“We were already living with fear, but the kind of fear you have when living in a city that has a volcano or earthquake [risk], the kind of fear that is in the back of your mind,” says Jessica Peña, a sociology professor at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez. “But this is an extreme situation. I think this will change people's fears to the worst.… This is something we thought just happened in societies like Iran or Iraq.”
Authorities try to play down the attack
Mexico's attorney general, Arturo Chavez, tried to downplay the event during a press conference Friday, assuring reporters that there is “no evidence anywhere in the country of narcoterrorism.”
The bomb was apparently set off by a cellphone in a trap designed by Mexican drug gangs. Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said at a press conference that drug gangs dressed a wounded man as a police officer and left him on the street. The perpetrators then called emergency services to lure federal police to the scene. As first responders approached, the bomb exploded. Among those killed was a doctor who rushed to treat the man. A cameraman was among the injured.
Officials placed the blame on La Linea, a street gang that works for the local Juarez cartel, and said the car bomb could have been in retaliation for the arrest of a gang member earlier in the week.
Why is Juarez so bad?
Ciudad Juarez has been in the throes of violence in Mexico in the past year, as the Juarez and Sinaloa gangs fight for the lucrative drug routes that head into the United States from the border. In response, federal police took control of the city from the military this spring, and the federal government is also experimenting with a new approach to the drug war, which saw the dispatching of the military across the country by Mexican President Felipe Calderón when he took office in December 2006 and placed more emphasis on social programs and the roots of violence.
Mexico has faced many troubling milestones since then. New figures released by the attorney general on Friday show that nearly 25,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Mr. Calderón took office. Local elections in early July were marred by intimidation, with the low point being the assassination of the leading candidate for governor for the northern state of Tamaulipas, Rodolfo Torre Cantu.
The attack comes as Calderón, who has promised to stay tough on drug cartels and not back down, reshuffled his cabinet last week, including naming a new Interior minister, José Francisco Blake.
This weekend alone left nearly 20 dead, including five factory workers in Ciudad Juarez and four police officers in the Pacific resort town of Acapulco.