Mexicans begin to decry recent wave of violence Gangster attacks prompt business leaders, clerics, other leaders to speak out


CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -- Bloodshed is no stranger to Ciudad Juarez, the border city across the swirling Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. For years, it has had a murder rate twice New York's, but authorities mostly shrugged off the carnage so long as it did not spill out of the shanty towns and victims could be dismissed as drug dealers.

Recently, however, something seems to have snapped. After a series of daytime attacks by gangsters firing automatic rifles claimed 20 lives in a month, business people, clerics and other civic leaders are speaking out.

A nationwide wave of homicide has followed the death in July of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, the Mexican drug trafficker who made Juarez his main smuggling gateway to the United States. Mexican leaders are expressing outrage about the trafficking and the mayhem that is its corollary.

"We have reached the point politically where citizens as a whole are demanding that the government make security its No. 1 priority," Claudio X. Gonzalez, chairman of Kimberley Clark of Mexico, said recently. "If we don't attack the problem of public insecurity, we risk affecting both national and international investment.

But how? President Ernesto Zedillo's strategy, applauded by the Clinton administration, is to deploy the Mexican army in hopes that disciplined soldiers will prove less corruptible than poorly paid police.

Ciudad Juarez and the state of Chihuahua have been a showcase for that effort. Zedillo replaced the entire command structure of the civilian anti-narcotics police here three years ago with army officers. But the military has failed to diminish either the flow of drugs or the body count.

Opposition politicians like to blame corruption within the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for the drug crisis. But here, too, Chihuahua has been a disappointment. The pro-business National Action Party has been in control of both the Chihuahua statehouse and Juarez city hall for five years, and its officials have proven equally unable or unwilling to resist the traffickers.

Part of the problem is that the Mexican smugglers vastly outspend the government. Flooded with drug bribes, Mexico's law enforcement and judicial system has all but collapsed.

Last week, the Juarez newspaper Norte editorialized, "The old corrupt system of not fighting crime, just controlling it, seems to have arrived at its predictable end."

The degree to which Juarez authorities have been "just controlling" crime became clear in a federal trial in Houston in March.

Cesar Dominguez, a retired Juarez police officer, testified that traffickers allied with Carillo paid officers to move drugs freely through Juarez and to pack government planes with cash for officials at the attorney general's headquarters in Mexico City.

Drug Enforcement Administration officials call the loose organization linking the conspirators a "federation."

Until July, Carrillo was considered its chief executive, but it was destabilized by his death, which authorities say followed botched plastic surgery.

Authorities say recent executions in Mexico City, Guadalajara, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and Juarez were attempts by rivals to muscle in on Carrillo's turf and succession squabbles among his lieutenants.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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