Mexican officials, businesses brainstorm ways to bring down crime rate

JUAREZ, Mexico — Drugs are behind the city’s rising murder rate, so Juarez authorities are asking business groups and nonprofits to help them fight drug addiction.

On Wednesday, Chihuahua state officials met with dozens of civic groups to field ideas on how to bring down the crime rate. The city has recorded around 1,200 homicides so far this year, and authorities attribute 90 percent of the killings to drug trafficking or drug sales gone wrong.

“There are those who put the number of drug addicts at 60,000 and others at 100,000. It is a public safety problem, but it’s also a health problem that must be addressed,” said Mario Dena, Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral’s representative in Juarez.

While every other month drug cartel shootouts and massacres grab newspaper headlines — residents are still talking about the Aug. 27 murder of three young girls and their uncle in a ranch east of Juarez, and the June 13 finding of multiple body parts in boxes and coolers in the suburb of Guadalupe — most homicides happen in homes, corners or stores in working-class neighborhoods where drugs are sold, officials say.

“Everything starts with consumers who demand illicit drugs. We cannot just go after the distributor without taking care of the growing number of addicts,” said Luis Fernando Mesta, secretary of government for the State of Chihuahua. “It’s a vicious circle in which addiction generates a market for those who sell drugs. From a public safety point of view, if we reduce addictions, we would also reduce the insecurity brought about by street drug sales.”

Chihuahua officials said drug consumption in Mexican cities has skyrocketed since the United States stepped up border security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Unable to ship all of its product to the U.S., Mexican drug cartels began peddling drugs domestically, officials have told BorderReport.com.

Mesta said one of the ideas surfaced at Wednesday’s meeting is providing drug counseling for inmates at state penitentiaries. If convicted criminals don’t give up hard drugs, they’ll become repeat offenders to finance their expensive drug habits. “We have to recognize this is also a health issue. (Drug) addiction is an illness,” he said. “The point is not to put people in jail and keep them there forever; it’s better if these people can be rehabilitated and become productive members of society.”

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