MEXICO CITY — Investigators hunted for suspects Thursday following the execution of 18 youths at a drug rehab center in the border town of Ciudad Juarez, one of the most brazen episodes yet in Mexico‘s drug cartel wars.The attackers on Wednesday broke down the door of El Aliviane center in Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso. They then lined up the victims against a wall and opened fire, according to Arturo Sandoval, a spokesman for the regional prosecutors’ office.
It was the third recent attack on a drug treatment center in Ciudad Juarez. Patricia Gonzalez, the prosecutor of Chihuahua state, where Ciudad Juarez is located, said Thursday that the centers have frequently been used by drug cartel members as hide-outs from police or rival gang members.
Enrique Torres, spokesman for the government’s military and police task force in Chihuahua, said there was no evidence yet that any of the 18 dead and two injured youths were working for the cartels. “As far as we know, all of them were people who were being rehabilitated,” Torres said.
In all, 40 people were murdered throughout Chihuahua on Wednesday, according to Mexican newspaper El Universal, which called it the bloodiest day in “the history of crime” in the state.
The massacre came just hours after President Felipe Calderon defended his anti-drug efforts in Mexico’s equivalent of the State of the Union address. Also Wednesday, the No. 2 security official in Calderon’s home state of Michoacan was shot dead when several gunmen attacked his car.
More than 13,500 people have died in drug-related violence since Calderon took office in 2006, prompting increasing questions about if and when his strategy will pay off.
“We are losing” the drug war, said Victor Quintana, a sociologist and expert on crime at Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez. “Drug deaths are up, petty crime is up, the biggest drug traffickers here in Chihuahua (state) have not been caught. By any measure, this strategy is not working.”
Calderon has cast the drug war as part of a larger quest for law and order in a country where drug cartels have penetrated key institutions such as the army and police. His government has poured 4,500 troops into Juarez alone.
The shooting also shows the shortcomings of Mexico’s drug rehabilitation centers, said Regina Kuri, a spokeswoman for the Monte Fenix Center for Advanced Studies in Mexico City, which trains drug counselors.
Many of these centers are located in Mexico’s worst neighborhoods. They lack the money and contacts to send patients away to safer areas where they are shielded from temptation and retribution, Kuri said.
“You need to remove these people from these places and give them real treatment, not just a daily plate of beans,” Kuri said. Under Calderon, Mexican security officers have arrested several top cartel leaders and seized record amounts of drugs. However, new cartels such as the La Familia syndicate in Michoacan have emerged to take the place of weakened cartels.
“It’s focused on this absurd fight, where you patch over one hole and 10 others open up,” Kuri said. “The points of (drug) sales just multiply.”
Contributing: Sergio Solache; the Associated Press
Credit for the above to: USA today @http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2009-09-03-mexico-slayings_N.htm?csp=34