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CAB012 / Mexico / CIUDAD JUAREZ – THE YEAR IN NUMBERS

SUBJECT: CIUDAD JUAREZ – THE YEAR IN NUMBERS

¶1. (SBU) Summary:  The incidence of violent crime in Ciudad Juarez this past year was high by any standard.  There were 1,633 murders in and around Juarez, a figure that represented more than one quarter of all homicides registered in Mexico for the year, and five times the number recorded in the city last year.  Police officers died at a rate that would be unacceptable most anywhere else; at least 71 peace officers were killed during the year.  Simple car theft and carjacking, bank robbery, kidnapping and extortion numbers all hit levels that made comparison to earlier years all but meaningless.  To the extent the Juarez city government attempted to use its own resources to stem the tide of violence, its efforts were futile.  The Chihuahua state government’s police and criminal justice structure also had little impact on the incidence of criminality, and despite the federal government’s promise of action as represented by `Joint Operation Chihuahua’, the army and federal police rarely engaged directly with the cartels and street gangs.  Many people who exercise political and economic power in the city, including Mayor Jose Miguel Salazar, have moved to El Paso.  Amidst the breakdown in law and order, most Juarez residents continue to go about their normal business of work, school and homemaking as in the past, albeit while increasingly limiting their outdoor activities to daylight hours.  Others, however, may be taking the law into their own hands.  End Summary.

A STATISTICAL RECAP
¶2. (U) The following is a summary of the most notorious forms of criminality experienced by residents of Ciudad Juarez and its outlying towns:

Homicides
This Year – 1,633
Last Year – 316

Bank Robberies
This Year – 86
Last Year – 6

Car Thefts
This Year – 16,929
Last Year – 9,163

Carjackings
This Year – 1,650
Last Year – 327

THE KINDS OF THINGS THAT MAKE LAW-ABIDING CITIZENS WORRY
¶3. (U) Residents of Ciudad Juarez, while deeply discouraged by circumstances in their city, recognize that most murder victims are either directly involved in the drug trade, or were with someone directly involved in the drug trade when that person was attacked.  Indeed, one published figure suggests that more than 1,400 of the murders in and around Juarez this past year involved the specific targeting of people involved in narcotics trafficking.  Juarez residents have sought to limit their potential exposure to this violence by “self-curfewing,” limiting their outdoor activities at night and their patronage of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, but otherwise they continue to go about their normal daily activities.

¶4. (SBU) Perhaps more than a fear of being in the wrong place at the wrong time when cartel hit squads go after a target, Juarez residents are troubled by the increase in the levels of kidnapping and carjacking.  Prior to the middle of this year, kidnapping was rare in Ciudad Juarez.  Around mid-year, reports of kidnappings of junkyard owners began to hit the news.  While there was commotion in the press over this phenomenon, there was also a perception that cash-strapped, cartel-affiliated gangs were going after soft target individuals who were operating on the fringes of legality anyway. (Note: many of the junkyards are “chop shops” for cars stolen by the gangs themselves.) Ransoms also tended to be relatively low; families could often retrieve a loved one for 30,000 dollars or less.  Over the past few months, however, as the twin crimes of extortion and kidnapping became more widespread, the level of concern has increased.  The kidnapping on January 13 of a CEO as he left a Juarez office building, and the subsequent reported demand for 1.5 million dollars in ransom, appears to have taken this crime to a new level. (Note: the CEO was reported rescued by Mexican army troops on January 19.)

¶5. (U) The other crime that most concerns law-abiding Juarez residents is carjacking.  What published figures suggest is that while the total number of cars stolen in Juarez appears to have reached a plateau of 1,500 to 1,800 per month, the chances that a car thief will physically threaten the car’s owner and demand the keys is now much higher than in the past.  What is worse is that while being the victim of a carjacking would be traumatic at the best of times, Juarez residents’ awareness that hundreds of hit men are abroad in the city means that when a group of gunmen surrounds a target in traffic, the target cannot know whether the team simply wants the car, or whether the team has come to kill the target.

WHAT ARE GOVERNMENT, BUSINESSES AND INDIVIDUALS DOING ABOUT IT?
¶6. (SBU) As previously reported by the Consulate, at the close of the first 100-plus murder month on record in Ciudad Juarez, in late March the three levels of Mexican government announced the start of `Joint Operation Chihuahua’.  To great fanfare, 2500 Mexican army soldiers and federal police officers flew into Juarez with the promise of ending the bloodshed.  The homicide numbers dropped somewhat in April, while the cartels fighting for the Juarez “plaza” took measure of the army’s tactics, and then the violence resumed and accelerated throughout the rest of the year.  The view is widely held that the army is comfortable letting the opposing cartels diminish each other’s strength as they fight for control of the “plaza”.

¶7. (SBU) At the city government level, 400 police officers were fired after they failed background checks conducted by federal authorities. (Note: earlier in 2008, Mayor Miguel Salazar told consulate officers that 100 percent of the municipal police force was corrupt to a greater or lesser extent.  When the 400 were fired, there was some skepticism in the city that these were the worst of the lot.) The city police force of 1600 officers was further reduced by deaths and resignations.  Mayor Salazar says that he plans to rebuild the police force to a strength of 2200 officers by summer of next year.

¶8. (SBU) The mayor also wants to contract with a private security company to establish a 2000 member police auxiliary to guard banks, factories, and other businesses.  During this past summer, convenience stores and other small private businesses hired off-duty police officers to guard their premises.  The police/security guards foiled several store robberies, including through the use of lethal force, and thereafter the level of this kind of crime dropped significantly.  The mayor hopes to replicate this result, at a lower cost in salaries and benefits than represented by the use of plain-clothes regular police officers.

¶9. (SBU) Finally, on January 8 the city announced that its 392 transit police officers were once again authorized to carry weapons on duty.  The transit police had been disarmed in April by federal authorities, reportedly due to the agency’s failure to properly account for the officers’ side arms. (Comment: that it took nine months to resolve this issue on behalf of the transit officers is indicative of the lack of urgency with which city and federal officials have approached police officer safety.  End comment.)

¶10. (SBU) Other businesses have taken a short-term approach to dealing with specific, short-term problems.  For example, when extortionists targeted teachers in November and December in anticipation of the payment of the teachers’ year-end bonuses (aguinaldos), many schools simply closed early for the year.

VIGILANTISM
¶11. (SBU) In addition to the steps highlighted above, there have been indications that local businesses are taking a different approach to self-protection, that of vigilantism.  In October, the press carried stories of business people forming paramilitary groups to protect themselves from extortionists and kidnappers.  On November 28, seven men were shot dead outside a school a few blocks from the Consulate, and placards were hung over their bodies (a fact not reported to the public) claiming that the executions were carried out by the `Unión Propietarios Chatarrería’ (Junkyard Owners’ Union).  In another notorious incident, a burned body was left outside a Juarez police station with its amputated hands each holding a gas fire starter, and with a sign saying that this would be the penalty paid by arsonists.  During the week of January 11 an email circulated through Juarez, claiming that a new locally funded group called the `La Justicia los Ciudadanos de Juárez Equipo (Juarez Citizens’ Justice Squad)’ was going to “clean (the) city of these criminals” and “end the life of a criminal every 24 hours.”

¶12. (SBU) City and state government officials have argued that there exists no evidence of a vigilante movement in Ciudad Juarez, and that the messages by the group are a hoax.  A Consulate contact in the press, however, suggests that the group is a real self-defense group comprised of eight former Los Similares’ members hired by four Juarez business owners.  According to the contact, the former Similares members paid a visit on local military commanders when they arrived in Juarez in September, and purchased previously seized weapons from the army garrison.  According to the contact, the former Similares pledged not to target the army, and made themselves available to the army for extrajudicial operations.

COMMENT
¶13. (SBU) In theory, the Mexican federal police should be taking the lead here in going after the cartels, and to create a security environment in which the city could work to prevent other forms of criminality, and in which the state government could investigate and prosecute those crimes committed outside the organized crime structure.  The mayor’s police hiring plans notwithstanding, to date not much has been accomplished along these lines.  While Consulate officers have not yet been able to determine whether the vigilante groups exist as new and independent organizations, it is the absence of effective law enforcement that creates an environment in which vigilantism could take root.  In theory, a vigilante group comprised of or in league with Mexican army elements could resolve an ongoing frustration of the garrison, which is that while they can seize weapons and drugs, their lack of police authority and training has generally resulted in alleged criminals going free under orders from a court of law.

¶14. (SBU) With regard to violence between the cartels themselves, there was evidence of a temporary truce between the cartels that lasted from mid-December of last year to mid-January of this year.  That truce has now been broken.  In the meantime, apart from bank robberies (which appear to be largely the work of small time criminals who settle for what they can get out of a counter cash drawer), the other types of crime are also often the work of the cartels and their affiliated street gangs.  That the cartels are branching out into racketeering, kidnapping, arson and car theft appears not only to reflect their desire to intimidate their enemies, but also the need to meet payroll and other continuing expenses in the face of a more difficult smuggling environment.  In this light, it is difficult to predict how long the extraordinary levels of violence and general criminality  will continue, but no one is betting that crime will soon return to previous levels.

UPDATE:

ADVISEMENT TO US TRAVELERS
¶15. (U) Last week, the American Consulate in Ciudad Juarez released the following safety advisement for US travelers visiting the city:

“Violent crime is a fact of everyday life in Ciudad Juarez.  No trends indicate that criminals in Juarez specifically target U.S.  citizens.  Instead, they select victims based on an appearance of vulnerability, prosperity or inattentiveness, particularly in the downtown bar area.

Americans in Juarez need to guard against robbery, theft, and burglary.  Displays of cash, jewelry or other signs of wealth are magnets for armed street thieves and pickpockets, and items of minor value left in a car can trigger a break-in even when left for only a few minutes.  Hotel guests should keep valuables in secure locations.  Do not leave jewelry, money, identity documents, or other valuable items unattended in hotel rooms.

¶PERSONAL SAFETY

¶1.  Remain on constant alert for street crime (i.e.  armed robbery, pocket-picking, purse-snatching, ATM robbery, etc.).

¶2.  Maintain a low profile.  Dress casually and keep valuables out of sight.  Do not draw attention to yourself.

¶3.  Vary your routine.  Be unpredictable in your movements.  Vary your routes and your departure and arrival times.

¶4.  Be alert to surveillance.  Note and avoid anyone who appears out of place along your routes to regularly scheduled activities.  Avoid sitting outside at restaurants.  Instead, try to find seats in areas not clearly visible from the street.

¶5.  Stay informed.  Be aware of popular scams and robbery tactics used to distract your attention.

¶6.  Reduce the incentive for someone to rob you and minimize the possible loss.  Do not carry valuables or large sums of money, avoid wearing jewelry, and carry your wallet in your front trouser pocket or front jacket pocket.

¶7.  When hiring domestic help, check references and criminal history as thoroughly as possible and ensure that they are trained not to volunteer information to strangers or to allow access to workers without prior authorization.

¶8.  Take normal tourist precautions when drinking water and eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads.

¶9.  Do not buy prescription medications in Mexico unless you have a prescription from a Mexican doctor.

DRIVER SAFETY
Driving in Juarez requires vigilance and a defensive attitude.  Local drivers are not uniformly well experienced, and often have poorly maintained cars.  Road signs and traffic lights are not always clear.  Drivers in Ciudad Juarez should give a wide berth to public buses, which are known for careless driving.

Road conditions are poor in most areas outside of downtown.  Potholes and trenches can damage your car or cause drivers to swerve into your lane or brake unexpectedly.  Manhole covers may be removed at any time, but more often when roads flood, in order to drain an area more quickly.  Open manholes are hard to spot.

PROTECTING YOUR VEHICLE
The head and taillights are held in place by easily accessible screws.  Install grilles around the lights.

If your tire is mounted on the outside the vehicle, secure it in place with a chain and padlock or similar device.

Theft of a vehicle’s operating computer is a common crime, as is theft of car sound systems.  Car alarms are strongly recommended.  Keep your vehicle free of anything of value, and store out of plain view anything that would entice a thief.

Replace one lug nut on each wheel with a specially keyed bolt that locks or can only be removed with a special attachment to the tire iron.

Avoid leaving your vehicle on the street.  Park inside a residential compound, in a parking lot with an attendant, or within view of the location of your visit.

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Avoid public transportation.  In addition to harboring potential pick-pockets, city buses are known for reckless driving.  Taxis in Juarez are generally safer and more reliable.  Taxis are required to be registered with the government, but they are usually not metered and may overcharge.  Taxis from the airport are paid in advance in the terminal and are well regulated.

MURDER
Drug related murders can occur anytime in any part of Ciudad Juarez, and ordinary residents can be caught in the crossfire.  Remain alert for trouble at all times, and constantly review escape routes and potential safe-havens as you travel in the city.

ROBBERY
Commercial establishments and their patrons, such as stores and restaurants, are increasingly targeted for robbery.

KIDNAPPING
There are many forms of kidnapping in Mexico.  For instance, “virtual kidnapping” is the term used when criminals falsely claim to have kidnapped a victim in order to quickly obtain a ransom, and those cases increased 500% in Ciudad Juarez this year with more than 600 reported incidents.  There have been incidents where US Citizens were kidnapped in or near Ciudad Juarez, but no trends indicate that US Citizens are being specifically targeted.

FLOODS
Avoid driving during and after rainstorms because improper drainage creates street flooding, submerged potholes and open manholes.

POLICE RESPONSE
The Mexican police emergency telephone number is 066, but authorities may not respond to a call in a timely fashion, if at all.

The Juarez city police force is undersized and underfunded.  Police training does not meet U.S.  standards.  At least 400 officers, one quarter of the police force, were fired this year for gross ( drug cartel-related) corruption.  Reporting a crime is an archaic, exhausting process in Mexico, and is widely perceived by Mexicans to be a waste of time except for the most serious incidents or where a police report is required for insurance purposes.  A general perception is that most victims do not report crimes against them due to the fear of reprisals by the criminals, the belief that police are corrupt, or the feeling that nothing would come from such reports.  However, victims should still report crimes.

The police may require accident or crime victims to accompany them to a police station in order to make a report, but bear in mind that criminals have impersonated Juarez police officers.  The police will charge a nominal fee if a police report is required for an insurance claim or other purposes.

DETENTION BY POLICE
If you are stopped by police authorities and do not believe that you have done anything wrong, it may be better to give the police officer the photocopies rather than your actual documents.

If the officer continues to question you or if Spanish language issues make it hard to communicate, then give the following statement to the officer:

“No hablo ni entiendo bien el espaqol.  Si usted considera que he cometido una infraccisn de transito, expida el recibo de multa que la ampara.  Si existe algzn otro problema, por favor solicite la presencia de un elemento de policma que hable ingles.  Gracias.”

This translates as:

“I do not speak or understand Spanish.  If you believe I have committed a traffic violation, then give me a ticket.  If there is some other problem, please request the assistance of another policeman who can speak English.  Thank you.”

This suggested course of action is not intended to avoid responsibility for legitimate traffic violations or infractions of Mexican law.

Do not offer “tips” or bribes in any form to police officers after a traffic stop.  In the event that the officer should suggest anything other than a normal resolution to a traffic violation, note the officer’s badge number, name tag, or police vehicle number, and provide it to the American Citizen Services section of the U.S.  Consulate General Ciudad Juarez as soon as possible.”

END UPDATE.

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