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Mexico Takes Different Tack on Juarez Violence
email this pageprint this pageemail usKen Ellingwood - Los Angeles Times
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July 13, 2010

It's a very ugly environment, very tense. They promised a lot of things. We haven't seen any changes.
- Maria Elena Perez
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico The rifle-toting Mexican soldiers who patrolled in convoys have been sent to the barracks. Now 5,000 federal police officers are responsible for law and order in Mexico's deadliest city.

The shift in April from military to civilian police control is part of a broadened Mexican government strategy aimed at curbing street violence that has killed more than 5,000 people in Ciudad Juarez since early 2008.

So far, the results have been mixed. The bodies keep piling up and a fledgling "hearts and minds" campaign has yet to produce convincing gains.

The new approach includes a wide-ranging effort to address the vast social and economic ills that are believed to feed crime and gangs in Juarez. Officials unveiled the retooled effort after a huge outcry over the January slayings of 15 people when drug-gang hit men stormed a teen party in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

Saving Juarez won't be easy. Months after the new police deployment, the city's murder rate remains stubbornly high: about seven killings a day, according to unofficial tallies in the news media.

On a recent day, 22 people were slain. Another day, the mayor of a town outside Juarez died in a hail of gunfire at the home he kept in the city. Early this month, assassins ambushed and killed a deputy state prosecutor in her car.

Fear-stricken Juarez residents say the government has replaced one heavily armed federal force with another, so far without solving their biggest worry: the lack of security.

"It's a very ugly environment, very tense," said Maria Elena Perez, a 63-year-old resident interviewed at a shopping center that has its own private security force and offers unofficial haven from the daily violence. "They promised a lot of things. We haven't seen any changes."

Officials say they're on the right track in trying to mend the "social fabric" of the scruffy border city through a $260-million effort called Todos Somos Juarez, or "We Are All Juarez."

The project is in response to frequent criticisms that President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on drug cartels, begun in December 2006, has relied too much on firepower and given short shrift to addressing the kinds of problems that can steer young people to crime: deep poverty, inadequate schools and child care, and a lack of jobs and recreation.

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