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Special report: 7 circles of Juarez

A video and text special report on Mexico's drug wars.

Do many drugs stay in Mexico?

With narcotics long passing through the city and many migrants returning from the United States with addiction problems, Juarez has developed a major local drug market particularly in cocaine and heroin. The city now has thousands of tienditas, or “little shops” for drugs. Each of these small businesses purportedly collects thousands of dollars daily in sales. The fighting over these street corners has exasperated the war for the smuggling corridor. Many of those killed have been local dealers, who allegedly did not pay a certain cartel their “tax” to sell drugs.

Who is kidnapping/extorting?

Juarez has been plagued by hundreds of kidnappings for ransom as well as groups demanding protection money from businesses since the conflict broke out in 2008. People who don’t pay are often brutally murdered and many businesses have been burned down. This extortion is the No. 1 concern for the business community. However, it is unclear who exactly is behind it. The cartels themselves could be involved but some agents argue the drug bosses would not be messing with shakedowns worth as little as $200 per month. Gang members or killers with tenuous links to the mobs could also be making extra cash. In 2008, the city government fired 600 corrupt police officers. Some allege they are the main culprits of the extortion rackets. Others say that opportunistic criminals with no connection at all to the cartels have just taken advantage of the violent chaos to make quick cash.

How many of the killings are related to the cartel war?

It is impossible to say how many of the murders are really related to the broader fight for control of the drug trade. The vast majority of the homicides are never solved and even when there are arrests — including some hired cartel hitmen accused of hundreds of killings — the only evidence is a confession obtained under torture. Drug cartel operatives also murder many victims for personal beefs, including fights over lovers or questions of disrespect. And with such widespread impunity, it is easy for those with grudges in Juarez to think they can get away with murder. However, the vast majority of killings do have all the signs of gangland hits, including use of automatic rifles and ambushes involving several vehicles.

Why have the police and army been incapable of stopping the violence?

The Mexican government has pushed a force of up to 10,000 into the city including soldiers, federal police and agents, state police and a beefed-up local police force. However, the troop surges have only been able to establish temporary lulls in the violence. Analysts point to several reasons for their failure. First, the soldiers and federal paramilitary police often lack the investigative skills to go after criminals, who are often able to evade capture by hiding in local neighborhoods where they are provided cover and support. Second, the economic recession and continuation of drug dollars lead to a never-ending army of hitmen replacing those killed. Thirdly, the rot of corruption continues to spread through police officers, even as others are fired.

7 circles of Juarez: a series

How cartels have turned youth into hit men

Video: who's to blame?

Timeline: the meltdown of Juarez