Mexico's Drug Wars Headed to the U.S.?

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CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico - Fighting between rival drug cartels has led to thousands of deaths across Mexico in recent months, threatening the country's government as well as relations with the U.S.

The border city of Juarez has been virtually ruled by masked criminals who have robbed and murdered at will. Just across from El Paso, Texas, the industrial city has seen nearly 2,000 murders in the past year alone, scenes reported in graphic detail in the local daily papers. City officials have also been forced to resign or run for their lives.

Click the player to watch the report from CBN News Reporter Chuck Holton followed by Pat Robertson's comments about our friends in Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has even considered sending troops to the region as the bloody crime wave threatens to spill across the border. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has initiated what amounts to martial law in many parts of the country in order to quell the violence.

In Juarez, more than 5,000 Mexican soldiers are patrolling the streets along with hundreds of federal police.

CBN News went to the edge of the city as a convoy of military police come in from Chihuahua. The police have sent more than 1,000 extra troops with dogs and armed to the teeth, to put a stop to the rest of the violence.

This show of force seems to be having its desired effect. Emergency room doctors in Juarez have their fingers on the pulse of the city.

"We measured the cases we had from January 2008 to August, and we had more than 300 cases - injured, not killed. Many days more than one a day," an emergency room doctor said. "This year is improving."

Violence Spills into U.S.

One of the biggest concerns is that the violence will creep north into the U.S.  Congress has made it clear U.S. troops would be sent to the border if needed.

But according to the Border Patrol increased vigilance is keeping the peace in the El Paso sector.

"We really haven't seen the violence spill over. What we have seen at the ports of entry, where individuals who have been shot in Mexico have been transported to the ports of entry and then brought over to hospitals here in the U.S.," Jorge Romero, Border Patrol Public Relations, said.

"In the last few years what we have seen is an increase in violence against some of our agents. As we're becoming more successful in controlling our borders, the smugglers are becoming more desperate," he added.

With a State Department warning against travel to Mexico, the normally lucrative spring break is turning out to be a flop this year. Some residents believe the U.S. and tourists are using the border violence to paint their country with too broad a brush.

"You can't judge the United States by what happens in Los Angeles at 2 o'clock in the morning, and it's not fair to judge Mexico by what happens in Juarez," a resident said.

Effects of Economy

San Carlos, a resort area north of Mazatlan, is normally booked solid this time of year. Now its beaches and businesses are almost empty. That is adding to an already hurting economy.

"At Catch 22 Sport Fishing we're probably about 50 percent off the mark this year. And I think that the economy in the states is a big factor. We have a joke down here that everybody's 401k has turned into a 201k and now a 101K. Obviously the economy is a big factor," Carlos said.

Things became so bad in Juarez that they had to close the airport a few weeks ago. But now with all the troops that have come in, violence is down, things are a lot better, and the people of Juarez are very thankful for it.

Constant media coverage of the violence, however, is powerful.

Missions Outreach

Terry Bilderback heads the missions outreach for the First Baptist Church of El Paso.

"Historically we have had groups that have been willing to come and be involved in missions from around the United States," Bilderback said. "We have seen a reduction in the number of folks who are willing to come and cross the border. In addition, first Baptist has ended up curtailing the missions work that we are involved in."

During CBN News' time in Mexico, we also met missionaries driven out of their homes in Chihuahua by the drug traffickers. They shared some of their story but were unwilling to show their faces on television.

The push for peace and divine intervention is strong. Last week, a group of Christians from around the city held a seven-day prayer vigil outside the municipal center, begging God to bring peace to the city.

"We are fasting seven days straight, day and night, for the peace in this city. We love this city and we expect over 1,500 people to come and pray from churches around Juarez," participant Geg Ramirez said.

They are also hoping that missions groups won't stay away for too long.

"We're praying for them to come this year, because it's a blessing for them to come, to evangelize in this city," Ramirez added.

Government Intervention

Roberto Hernandez is the consul general at the Mexican consulate in El Paso. He says the government is doing everything it can to stop the killing.

"The government is in control of the situation. Of course we are facing many kinds of problems, but in the meantime we are going to continue the fight until we succeed," he said.

"It's not a matter of how many cartels we have in Mexico. It's not a matter of how many users you have in the United States - millions, maybe," he added. "It's a matter of shared responsibility to fight against organized crime. And we are committed to do that."

At this point, nobody can say whether or not this "Mexican surge" will stop the violence for good. The United States government has made it clear that American troops being sent to the border is an option that is still on the table.

For now, these Christian men and women are praying that the fragile peace will hold.

*Originally published March 27, 2009

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Chuck Holton

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