Over 34,000 people have died in Mexico from drug-related incidents during the past four years and the problem is beginning to affect confidence in the economy. The Secretary of State will meet with President Felipe Calderon to discuss modernizing the US-Mexican border and how the fight against the criminal organizations should be waged. President Calderon’s war against the gangs has been criticised in some quarters for leading to more deaths. Business leaders and human rights group worry his crackdown has backfired, as turf wars spring up where gang leaders have been removed by the police or army.
In the city of Monterrey, rival drugs cartels have begun battling each other in a growing escalation of violence. Last week, there were 23 deaths in the space of a few days. With its manufacturing plants and ability to attract foreign businesses, such as General Electric, Monterrey was once considered a model city, where residents enjoy an income double the national average. But the rising level of crime, with killings soaring to record levels, has alarmed the city’s inhabitants. Now, some citizens are fighting back in any way they can. Tomas and Alexandro are policemen in a country where many youngsters are suspicious the police have been infiltrated and corrupted by the drugs gangs. The two men tour the regions’ schools to talk about the dangers of drugs. However, they soon realised pupils were not paying attention and some were even afraid of them. So the officers shed their guns and uniforms and began dressing as clowns. With their clothes, make-up and comedy performance, the men immediately gain the children’s attention and win their trust. Thomas is committed to his clown role, saying “we have to go to the children, so that this generation of kids can get out of bad habits and a healthy generation arrives.”
In the city of Ciudad Juarez, concerned female citizens have also adopted a new approach. A group of middle-class women have painted their motorcycles pink and at weekends, drive into deprived areas of the city. Turf wars between the drugs gangs have killed nearly 7,000 people in Ciudad Juarez over the last few years and in their battle against the gangs, the women call themselves ‘Las Guerreras’ or ‘Female Warriors’. But instead of carrying guns or weapons, they bring with them food and medicine for the poor. Many of the families they come to see, made up of single mothers, addicts, the unemployed and elderly, have little access to welfare services and feel completely abandoned. The female ‘Warriors’ hand out cash, medicines, clothing and even birthday cakes. Working as teachers, police officers or businesswomen during the week, these women pay for the gifts from their own pockets and give up their time for free. Lorenia Granados, co-founder of the group, said that on their pink bikes, they are not seen as a threat in areas where hitmen often use motorcycles. Many of those they visit, where sometimes the women just offer a sympathetic ear, have lost family members to the drugs wars. One grandmother, Sanjuana Flores, lost her daughter, who was a drug addict and shot dead in 2008, leaving her to look after her four grandchildren. In providing extra meat and vegetables to Sanjuana’s family, pink biker Lorenia Granados says simply “we’re just trying to make a difference in the hope that someday peace will return”.