When Mexican President Felipe Calderón walked into a meeting in Ciudad Juarez, just days after an American couple was killed in a drive-by shooting, local media zoomed to the protesters amassing outside.
“We are sick and tired, Mr. President,” read the display of the local newspaper El Diario in Ciudad Juarez, next to a photo of a body bag in the middle of the street.
Mexico’s most violent city, Ciudad Juarez, could also be the place that Mr. Calderón, who has relied on a military strategy to root out organized crime as the cornerstone of his presidency, loses support.
“Ciudad Juarez has been the case study of the Mexican military strategy,” says John Ackerman, a professor at the Institute for Legal Research at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Up to 10,000 troops and federal forces have swarmed into the border town, across from El Paso, Texas, since 2008. “And things have just gotten worse.”
US plays down killings
If the deaths of the two Americans – one of them a pregnant woman who worked at the US consulate and whose baby was in the back seat of the car – turn out to be retribution by drug gangs, it will represent a drastic new level of violence and organization on the part of traffickers who have been waging a war among each other that has left some 18,000 dead since Calderón took office in 2006.
US officials have sought to play down the motive of the shootings, which drew swift condemnation from President Obama. Even though the husband of another US consulate employee was also killed in a nearly simultaneous but separate drive-by shooting, some believe both attacks could have been a case of mistaken identity.
Even in that scenario, a case of mistaken identity will probably do little to assuage fears that Mexico is a dangerous place, or restore a sense of security among the citizens of Juarez. “It many ways, it’s worse when embassy workers can be killed in broad daylight,” says Mr. Ackerman. “And if it is drug-related, we also have a serious problem.”
Ahead of the meeting, Canada announced that its citizens should defer unnecessary travel to hotspots in Mexico, following a US warning that was updated on Sunday.
'We are all Juarez'
Calderón flew to Juarez as part of a scheduled visit to discuss “We are all Juarez,” a new program to bolster social programs, education, and job opportunities in the city of 1.3 million – a plan announced in the wake of a tragic massacre at a teen birthday part in January.
But the trip was overshadowed by the incident over the weekend. Calderón traveled with Mexico’s foreign relations secretary and US Ambassador Carlos Pascual.
"Both countries must keep collaborating to defeat these organizations, stop cross-border trafficking of drug, guns, and illegal money, and protect young people and children who are the targets of these criminals," Calderon said.
He, along with Mexican politicians and analysts, have continued to stress the US obligation to do more to fight its population’s demand for illegal drugs and its supply of arms.
But many say the government has failed by not placing enough focus on intelligence-gathering and investigations.
The “We are all Juarez” program plans to bring in more police to do just that. The mayor of Ciudad Juarez has also fired half the local police force because of rampant corruption and doubled it to 3,000 officers.
But Javier Oliva Posada, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, says, “We are all Juarez” is too little, too late. “At this point,” he says, “it is impossible to control Ciudad Juarez,” he says.