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Criminals are carrying out widespread extortion rackets, insisting business pay up or face brutal repercussions.
“Our intelligence shows that there are many small improvised groups of criminals often of young people behind these crimes,” he said.
He also says that former police, who were fired in efforts to clean up the force of corrupt elements, have also been found to be involved in the extortions.
Many targeted businesses report being forced to pay relatively small amounts of protection money ranging from $100 to $400 per month.
The demands are accompanied by brutal repercussions to non-payers. As well as businesses being sprayed with bullets many have been burned down. One such case includes a bordello, which was firebombed on Nov. 21 leaving a customer and sex worker scarred for life with third-degree burns.
Others have been kidnapped and murdered for non-payment, joining the more than 2,000 homicide victims in Juarez this year.
Drug-related violence has mushroomed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took power in December 2006 and declared an all-out war on the cartels.
His crackdown has netted record numbers of extraditions and busts but has also led to increased bloodshed as rival cartels hit back against each other and the government.
Critics say the approach is pushing Mexico toward a major security crisis and the government needs to rethink its strategy.
“This war is mainly killing poor people. Most of the victims of the soldiers and cartels are people from the slums who have no opportunities,” said Jose Dominguez, of the National Front Against Repression. “The extortion and insecurity also hurts the struggling people most. Many of the rich of Juarez just flee to El Paso.”
However, officials at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency hail Calderon’s offensive as a landmark in Mexican drug policy that will bear fruit in the long term. Joseph Arabit, special agent in charge of the DEA’s El Paso division, said the protection rackets are a sign of desperation by drug cartels that have been hit so hard on both sides of the border.
“Under Calderon, there has been unprecedented cooperation with the United States. He has not wavered at all in face of the threats and violence,” Arabit said. “We will continue to support and encourage Mexico to apply consistent pressure to these drug cartels.”
Editor's note: A quotation has been removed from this story. It was published in error because of a misunderstanding with a source.