Ross Kemp Extreme World - Mexico Juarez, murder capital of the world

This week Ross was in Juarez, Northern Mexico, a place known as 'the murder capital of the world'. 3000+ people were killed there last year alone, the result of territorial battles between rival drug 'cartels'.  Juarez sits on the border of the US and Mexico and thus is in prime position for the, relatively easy, transport of drugs across the border, to the largest consumer of drugs in the world. The Cartels are ruthless, operating a ‘silver or lead’ policy, where they offer huge bribes for people to look the other way, or join them, ‘silver’. Anyone who stands in their way is shot i.e. they get ‘lead’.  Control of Juarez is key to the flow of trade and thus the Cartels, routinely use murder and torture to ensure that.

Once you realise that we are talking about a $40 billion business, suddenly, the violence is brought into sharp focus. The majority of 'soldiers' in the cartels are young men from the Barrios - essentially, local shanty towns - for whom this is probably all they have to aspire to (more on that later). A trip to the local prison, that is controlled by rival gangs, whose reach appears to extend way beyond the prison walls, confirmed that. Ross' chat with a young man in prison for murder, revealed that he saw the gang as his family and would kill for them if required. That, combined with the fact that those who are officially supposed to be running the city, appear to have little influence, probably makes the choice of 'silver' an easy option.

As Ross crossed the tightly controlled border from the US into Mexico, he was warned by a crossing guard of the dangers awaiting him in Juarez. "I've spent a lot of time in Afghanistan" said Ross, by way of explanation as to why he wasn't worried about the trip. "It's worse than Afghanistan" said the guard and he wasn't wrong. In the week that Ross and his team stayed in Juarez, 62 people were killed in drug related murders. More, as Ross put it, than the number of people who died in Baghdad that week.  The drug Cartels are so powerful that they think nothing of killing people in broad daylight. During the episode, we heard that Police and City officials are corrupt and often involved with the Cartels. In addition 95% of murders go unsolved. Those statistics would explain their apparent lack of fear.

Two of the key questions Ross wanted to answer as part of the documentary were: who is fighting who; and what are they fighting for. Ross met with an ex Cartel member who indicated that there are 5 Cartels involved, all extremely organised “like a Swiss watch”, with links to the US, Central America, Mexico, Columbia and Canada. Shockingly, he indicated that whilst there are 'terrestrial routes' utilised to get drugs into the US, 40 - 45% of the airlines are 'involved' in transportation. Ross asked the guy whether anyone from the UK was involved. The fact that he indicated they had links in London and Spain didn't necessarily surprise me. What did and perhaps it’s a function of my naiveté, was that he indicated that UK police are aware and have been "bought off". 
The one criticism I did have of the documentary was that it didn't attempt to give any insight into why young men continue to join the Cartels. According to a recent article, the rise of the Cartels and drug related violence in the last 3 to 4 years has resulted in unemployment rates spiralling from almost zero to around 20%. This has naturally led to the less advantaged gravitating towards the Cartels for 'employment'. Combined with the usual issues around access to education for the working classes in developing economies & the impact of the downturn in the global economy, it's no surprise that the Cartels have a steady supply of foot soldiers, despite the inherent dangers of involvement.

President Calderon is accused of turning a blind eye to the situation and in fact, human rights organisations accuse Government troops of committing/being complicit in ongoing atrocities.  Many working class Mexicans believe that Calderon and the middle classes are not concerned as the  middle/upper classes are largely unaffected by this issue. There have also been a number of meetings between Calderon and Obama, the most recent on the back of the killing of a US agent in Mexico, to discuss the situation. Within Mexico, there is discussion about the potential legalisation of drugs, but it is recognised that, that in itself would not be sufficient. Education of youth in the Barrios; opening up other opportunities to them; rooting out corruption in national institutions such as the Army, Police and Government; are amongst the other solutions that would need to be employed.  All of this would be costly and clearly, not a ‘quick fix', but to date it appears that no satisfactory conclusion has been reached and the violence continues.

Women and children are not escaping unscathed, with the incidence of female murder, particularly amongst the middle classes, on the rise. Excerpt from a recent article on the subject:
December 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights slammed Mexico, initiating sanctions against the country for: "The impunity … gender-based violence, which in turn feeds women’s sense of insecurity and their abiding mistrust of the administration of [the] justice system."
A good article that talks to some of the issues women and girls  face and an inspirational organisation that is attempting to help, at this link: http://www.elpasotimes.com/news/ci_17233932

An article on recent murders of children and some additional background here:  http://www.ww4report.com/node/9571.

For general info on what's going on in Juarez see this useful page: http://www.topix.com/mx/ciudad-juarez

If you missed last night's episode, you can catch it on Sky Player, as always, I recommend it.

So next week Ross is in Haiti, where he will be looking at violent criminals who escaped Haiti's jails post the earthquake last year and are now running amok. I'll be watching, as it's a brilliant series, but will be becoming progressively more depressed at the state of the world.

1 comment:

  1. The border from El Paso into Juarez is only tightly controlled on the way into the US. I drove straight across into Juarez and no-one even asked for my passport. A steady trickle of container lorries and cars was heading south.