JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Faced with increased technology and security at the U.S. border, Mexican drug cartels are opting for selling more of their product at home.
In Juarez, for instance, the retail market for illicit narcotics has become a $234 million-a-year business that is fueling violence and turning more young people into addicts, officials said.
“(The cartels) are making $4.5 million per week in Juarez just selling, and that is not including trafficking to the U.S. That is why territory is so important to the different cells of organized crime and this has led to more violence,” said Jorge Nava, deputy attorney general for the state of Chihuahua.
Juarez finished June with 173 homicides. Most took place in working-class neighborhoods where gangs are selling drugs — primarily methamphetamine — out of homes and street corners and sending pushers to aggressively peddle drugs among the youth.
City officials like Mayor Armando Cabada say this fairly recent trend already is driving drug addiction rates up. He estimates that more than 100,000 people in Juarez are now regularly consuming drugs and is about to launch a campaign offering college scholarships to young people who agree to give up drugs.
“It’s a big market, it’s a big business, it’s a big problem … that’s why we see so many deaths,” Cabada said.
This development hasn’t gone unnoticed to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“The retail drug market in Juarez is operating at present like it never has been before,” Kyle Williamson, special agent in charge of the DEA said in an earlier interview.” So you have these gangs that are trying to control […] the drug market in Juarez whereas before it was a transit point — drugs passed through. Now we’re seeing higher rates of addiction, higher rates of retail sales on the streets.”
The sales and the violence are coming from the street-level gangs that act as enforcers for the drug cartels, he said.
Juarez officials identify these gangs as the Aztecas, Mexicles and La Empresa, among others.
“Every day our police officers are seizing drugs, seizing guns and cash, arresting people like no previous city administration has done before,” Cabada said.
Questioned as to why drug activity and homicide rates continue to rise despite the arrests, Cabada blamed the judicial system.
“It’s very important that people caught with drugs, with guns aren’t set free so easily,” he said. “We have an impressive number of arrests of drug traffickers and murderers. Unfortunately, we see them back at work a couple of weeks later.”
He said Mexican lawmakers need to fine-tune criminal laws, prosecutors need to present iron-clad cases against suspects and judges shouldn’t treat hardcore, repeat offenders as if this were their first brush with the law.