Two separate attacks on drug rehabilitation centers in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, left a total of 28 dead, and local and state officials scrambling to find ways to stem such increasingly common large-scale massacres. The attacks have jarred a city already on edge amidst continued escalating violence despite the visible presence of thousands of soldiers and federal police. They were the fifth and sixth attacks carried out against rehabilitation centers in the city since August of last year.
The attacks were similar in their execution. In the attack on the Aliviane rehabilitation center on September 2, eighteen patients were killed when several gunmen entered the center, ordered residents to line up against a wall, and opened fire. Less than two weeks later on September 14 gunmen stormed into the Vida rehabilitation center and opened fire, killing eight patients and two therapists. Mexican soldiers detained a man suspected of involvement in the September 2 attack; there have been no suspects detained for the September 14 massacre to date. The man arrested, José Rodolfo EscajedaEscajeda, presumed member of the Carrillo-Fuentes Juárez cartel, is also being investigated for involvement in the killing earlier in the summer of Mormon community leader Benjamin LeBaron.
Authorities have characterized the shootings as part of a “war of extermination” between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels targeting rivals, settling debts, and terrorizing the public in the process. After the September 2 attack, Juárez mayor José Reyesannounced that municipal police would reinforce security around the city’s rehabilitation centers. After the attack on September 14, however, Chihuahua public security secretary Víctor Valencia de los Santos announced that 10 of the city’s 61 rehabilitation centers would be closed for not adhering to minimum security and/or hiring standards. Reyes said that state authorities are currently investigating rehab centers statewide suspected of involvement in the drug trade. Clinic closures in the city are not a new occurrence, though. During the year leading up to the recent closure of 10 centers, 20 had been closed citywide for economic, security, or sanitation reasons; however in all the cases new centers sprung up to fill the gap, keeping the total number of clinics at roughly 60.
Local authorities say that drug use in Ciudad Juárez has spiked in recent months, as transporting drugs across the border has become more difficult, resulting in a glut of relatively inexpensive product in the city. When the increasing number of addicts seeks treatment, their debts and associations follow them, to which authorities attribute the recent attacks on rehab centers. According to federal government sources, the nation’s addiction rate increased by over 50% between 2001 and 2008. The two most recent attacks have underscored the lack of regulation of such drug clinics, whose numbers have increased dramatically in recent years to answer to demand.
Municipal police characterize the recent spike in drug addiction as a major public security challenge, claiming that 85% of crimes committed citywide are perpetrated by addicts. The number of addicts in Ciudad Juárez has been estimated at more than 30,000. Raúl Ricardo Montoya Jara, who heads the office addressing issues of drug addiction for the state, reports that only about 6,000 patients seek treatment annually between the 61 drug clinics throughout the city, representing less than a fifth of the total estimated habitual drug users. Moreover, Juárez daily El Diarioreports that the recent attacks have had a chilling effect on those actively seeking help, leading hundreds to quit treatment.
The day following the Vida massacre, gunmen attacked a Juárez nightclub, killing five. It was the 23rd nightclub in the city to be attacked this year, according to local news outlets. A total of 28 ejecucioneswere registered in the city on the day of the Vida massacre.
Cano, Luis Carlos. “Suman 18 muertos en centro de rehabilitación en Juárez.” El Universal September 3, 2009.
Castillo García, Gustavo. “Presuntoautor de la masacre de 18 jóvenesadictos en Juárez, detenido.” La JornadaSeptember 5, 2009.
Carrasco Soto, Horacio. “Adictoscometen 85% de delitos.” El DiarioSeptember 13, 2009.
Castañon, Araly. “Estasemanainspeccionarán los centros de rehabilitación.” El DiarioSeptember 13, 2009.
“Porviolencia, cerrarán 10 centros de rehabilitación en Ciudad Juárez.” MilenioSeptember 16, 2009.
Wilkinson, Tracy. “Cartel rivalry blamed in latest Mexico drug clinic slayings.” Los Angeles Times September 17, 2009.