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Mexico's Juarez on path to anarchy

By Matthew Price
BBC News, Ciudad Juarez

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Drugs and corruption in Juarez

The children of El Paso's Glen Cove Elementary School have not been told that a gunman shot their classmate dead.

Nor have they been told that someone across the Rio Grande in Mexico thought nothing of killing the seven-year-old.

Or that the gunman left Jociel Ramierez alone to die, as the blood seeped out of his body on a busy roundabout.

Jociel Ramierez
Seven-year-old Jociel Ramierez was a young victim of Juarez's drug war

If proof were needed that Mexico's most dangerous city, Juarez, is in danger of one day descending into anarchy - this is surely it.

Jociel Ramierez was born of Mexican parents in the US. He may not be the first US citizen to be killed in what have been called Mexico's drug wars, but he probably is the youngest.

His death is also a vivid illustration of how low Juarez has fallen, and how little the Mexican authorities seem able do about it.

Murder rate rising

When Felipe Calderon became president almost three years ago, he declared war on the drug cartels that he blamed for the breakdown of law and order across the country.

Troops on the streets of Juarez
Juarez has been flooded with extra troops, but its violence is unabated

He took the fight to them, and over time sent out more troops, more federal police, to defend his citizens and his country.

The Mexican government believes that given time it will win the fight.

In Juarez though - which received thousands of extra troops earlier this year, and yet which has seen the murder rate slowly rise since then - some are beginning to question that certainty.

People like Jociel Ramierez's aunt, who prefers not to be named for fear of retribution, and who has a different solution to the problem: "We have to end corruption, maybe that's the way to finish it."

That is not a minority view here.

Increasingly some believe it is not the drugs trade that is at the heart of the crisis. Instead it is political corruption and poverty, and until they are tackled, there will be no end.

Luiz Nevarez
Luiz Nevarez says he could earn 30 times more in the drugs trade than in teaching

"The drug problem is just a consequence of the decay of rule of law in this country," says one businessman with joint Mexican-American citizenship. He too prefers to remain anonymous.

Sticking your head above the parapet in this city is not something people do readily. Kidnapping and extortion, along with the murders, occur often.

"Nothing functions well, therefore anyone can take advantage of the system. So what we're seeing now is a [illegal] drug industry that's taking advantage of the system - of the way things work.

"And to get rid of it like the federal government is trying to do now is going to cause a lot of problems. So this violence is a consequence of all this."

One man who has studied Juarez at first hand for longer than most is journalist and author Julian Cardona, who grew up in the city.

He says the decline of Juarez has been a long time coming.

"We have an unsustainable economy - a globalised economy - which pays very low wages. That allowed an alternative economy to be created which also globalised - drugs. Both economies are playing here. Juarez is a very important place for both."

Poverty fuelling drug trade

Masked men stand on the roof of the central prison in Juarez. Their rifles are at the ready.

Prison band
Poverty is blamed for driving many into the arms of drug cartels

Down below in an open-air courtyard the prison band plays enthusiastically. Drums and trumpets.

This is home - for six years at least - for Luiz Nevarez. A small man who tries to smile a lot, who used to be a teacher before he turned to petty drugs smuggling.

He tells me that the Mexican economy functions for an elite group - not for the average person. A teacher, for instance, gets 3,000 pesos every week ($230) - transporting drugs around the country can get you up to 30 times more than that he tells me.

Poverty is driving many into the arms of the very cartels the government wants to wipe out.

The government insists it is working to protect the people. The president says his tactic of meeting force with force will work in the end. He is trying to reform the judiciary, the police, and to tackle corruption.

Many, though, like the businessman who prefers to remain anonymous, believe it will take something more.

"What we need to change is our political model. We need to establish a rule of law that functions, that gives rights to every citizen, so that they are not taken advantage of."

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