“Thanks to the cooperation between federal, state and local governments, as well as public support, we are mending the social fabric,” Poire said.
Critics of the government strategy in Juarez, however, point out that the former governor of the state of Chihuahua, which includes Juarez, was himself named as a target of a federal investigation over alleged ties to organized crime, according to media accounts.
Internecine cartel war
Although often portrayed as a battle over lucrative narcotics-smuggling routes into the United States, law enforcement officials say the fight between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels was less about feeding America’s voracious appetite for drugs and more about control of Juarez.
“From my perspective, the violence had its origin in the sale and consumption of drugs here in Ciudad Juarez; that’s what caused the bulk of the crisis,” said Cesar Peniche, the top federal prosecutor here.
By some estimates, thousands of drug distribution points and as many shooting galleries were operating in Juarez when the cartels went to war.
Some experts speculate that as it became more difficult to smuggle drugs into the United States, the mafias began paying people in product. This might have increased consumption in Juarez, where a dose of heroin sells for less than $5, the cheapest in North America.
As the federal prosecutor describes it, the cartels unleashed their armies to seize the city. At the top were leaders, such as Guzman, who probably never set foot in Juarez. The actual combatants were a handful of paramilitary-style hit squads, which included former and current police officers, and thousands of street criminals, lookouts, dope dealers and their customers, as well as impoverished teenage dropouts who were loaned a gun for a few hours.
After thousands of deaths and arrests, Mexican law enforcement officials say the Juarez cartel, Guzman’s enemy, is a shadow of its former self. A Mexican military commander said the Juarez mafia is having trouble paying its members. A Mexican state prosecutor said the organization has run out of recruits, weapons, vehicles and money.
Officials in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration say that both the cartels were wounded in the fight but that Guzman’s organization emerged on top.
Stoking the violence were two hyper-violent gangs called the Artistic Assassins and the Aztecas and two local leaders who pursued a strategy of mutual extermination until their capture last year.