In Mexico, the bloody battle to defeat the country’s powerful drug cartels is reeking havoc on formerly tranquil towns. Daylight shootings, kidnappings and extorion are becoming increasingly common. This is the case in Camargo, Chihuahua – Monica Ortiz Uribe visited the town six hours south of the Texas border.
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JEB SHARP: I’m Jeb Sharp. This is The World. In Mexico the war against the country’s drug cartels makes headlines every day. There are stories about suspected cartel members getting arrested for example. But more often it’s bad news. Daylight shootings, kidnappings, and extortion have become common all over Mexico. That’s the case in Camargo, a once tranquil and mostly agricultural town. It’s six hours south of the Texas border in the state of Chihuahua. Monica Ortiz Uribe recently visited the town to learn how life there has changed.
MONICA ORTIX URIBE: To find the heart of most small towns in Mexico you go to la placita, or little plaza. This is where people go to hang out, buy some toasted pumpkin seeds, a soda, or freshly popped popcorn. La placita in Camargo still seems peaceful. On a recent night a clown in baggy, polka dot pants entertained a crowd of children.
Nearby grownups and adolescents sat chatting on park benches. A pig-tailed toddler with a mustard and ketchup mustache straddled a toy tractor.
This is the Camargo lifelong residents know and love. But lately this town of 50,000 residents has been battered by never-before see violence. Just this year some 50 people have been murdered here. Alejandro Perez Talamantes is the solemn-faced police chief in Camargo. This year three of his officers were murdered on the job.
PEREZ TALAMANTES: [SPEAKING SPANISH]
URIBE: He says the homicide rate in Camargo has increased dramatically since he’s been in office by something like 400%. Just last week the police chief’s own bodyguard was murdered along with the man’s 13 year old daughter. They were gunned down in their car by gunmen wielding AK-47s. Three weeks earlier the target was the head of a state police unit based in Camargo. He survived but lost a leg as a result of the attack. And this summer a wealthy business owner was kidnapped. His body was later found along a nearby riverbank bound and duct taped. None of these crimes have been solved.
Outside Camargo’s rodeo arena Mayor Genaro Solis Gonzales sits on the bed of his red pickup truck. He said there are two types of violence threatening his city. One is drug related and the other is common criminals taking advantage of the overall lack of security.
GENARO SOLIS GONZALES: [SPEAKING SPANISH]
TRANSLATOR: We’re talking about fighting people who are well-armed and ready for anything. Our municipal police department is only equipped to prevent crime. We’re just incapable of confronting organized crime in a battle like this one.
URIBE: They shouldn’t have to. In Mexico the battle against drug traffickers and other organized crime falls under the jurisdiction of state and federal police. But there’s no question that local officers are getting caught in the middle. Solis says three other towns have had their police chief murdered or severely wounded in an attempted murder. He says at least 10 other small town mayors in Chihuahua are grappling with rising violence just as he is in Camargo.
GONZALES: [SPEAKING SPANISH]
TRANSLATOR: There are some mayors who have told me if I had known things would be this way I would never have run for office. But that’s not true in my case. Obviously I’m under great pressure but I feel it’s in our best interest to keep fighting, to restore peace in our towns.
URIBE: Solis has tried several countermeasures. He purged his police department of 30 officers suspected of corruption and doubled the number of patrol cars on the streets. This September local police arrested some 20 suspects they accuse in a series or armed robberies to local homes and businesses. But the crime wave continues affecting nearly everyone in town.
[PEOPE SPEAKING SPANISH]
This man owns a ranch on the outskirts of Camargo. We’ll call him Joel but that’s not his real name. He’s visiting a neighbor in town to talk about a problem he’s having. Joel is the victim of extortion.
JOEL: [SPEAKING SPANISH]
URIBE: Joel says he was the last one leaving the ranch one evening when a masked man accosted him. The man demanded that Joel pay him the equivalent of $1500 or else he would kill Joel’s son. The rancher says he’s too afraid to call police to report the extortion. So he plans to deposit the money in a bank account as instructed by his assailant.
JOEL: [SPEAKING SPANISH]
URIBE: Joel says he could care less about the money. It’s his son’s wellbeing he’s worried about. Money comes and goes, he says, but life does not. For The World I’m Monica Ortiz Uribe in Camargo, Chihuahua.
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