Mexico killings spotlight Juarez as Mexico’s worst drug war city

MEXICO CITY — The Mexico killings of a U.S. consulate employee, her American husband, and a Mexican citizen affiliated with the consulate in Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, could represent a disturbing ratcheting up of the drug trafficking violence that has taken more than 18,000 lives in just over three years.

While Americans have been victims of the deadly trafficking that has overtaken wide swaths of Mexico, US government workers have not been specific targets. Though there is no clear motive yet for the murders, investigators say the connection of the victims to the US consulate appears to be more than coincidence.

Mexican President Felipe Caldeón issued a statement Sunday expressing “his indignation” and “his sincerest condolences to the families of the victims.” He “reiterated the Mexican government’s unwavering compromise to resolve these grave crimes.”

Two separate drive-by shootings

The consulate employee and her husband were driving in Ciudad Juarez when they were attacked by gunmen near the international bridge that connects Mexico to the US. Their baby was in the back seat but was reportedly unharmed.

In a separate incident, gunmen also shot the husband of another employee from the US consulate. In that attack, his two young children were wounded, officials said. It was unclear if the two attacks were related but they appeared to be coordinated.

US Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual said in a statement that “the entire United States Mission in Mexico is shocked and grief-stricken by the horrendous murders of three members of our official family from the US Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, on March 13.”

Confidence in Calderón slips

President Calderón has sent 45,000 military and federal officials across Mexico since assuming office in December 2006, but violence continues unabated.

While many Mexicans have supported Calderón’s dependence on the military to root out organized crime, that support is waning, particularly in this border town.

In January, after a shooutout at a teen birthday party left 15 dead, most of them young kids without known ties to drug gangs, residents demanded the withdrawal of troops.

Government officials say troops and federal authorities are not heading home – but the government has shifted course saying that it needs to simultaneously bolster jobs and social security programs in the city. Calderón is expected to visit Juarez this week – his third visit since the January massacre.

Officials urge patience from Mexicans weary of the violence. For Americans, there are other options. The US State Department authorized the dependents of US government workers to temporarily leave six towns in northern Mexico because of rampant insecurity. Just last week, the State Department issued a travel alert for Mexico’s border cities ahead of spring break for American students.

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