Rehab Clinics Turn into Killing Zones In Mexico's Drug War
Mexico -- As narcotics addiction soars in Mexico, drug rehabilitation centers have become killing zones and recruitment centers in the country's escalating drug war. Clinics have become incubators for crime. In central Mexico, a cartel given to religious fanaticism is thought to run its own drug centers, weaning addicts off narcotics only to convert them into killers. Hired guns from cartels also have taken to using rehab clinics as hideouts after committing brutal crimes, making the centers targets of revenge for rivals. Almost every month, heavily armed squads break into a rehab center somewhere in Mexico and gun down those who are thought to be rivals from competing narcotics syndicates, along with innocent patients.
In one of the grisliest cases, assailants with AK-47 automatic rifles broke into the Faith and Life clinic in Chihuahua City, a desert hub about 220 miles from El Paso, Texas, lined up 19 people and executed them. The killers left a banner after the June 10 attack: "This is what happens to rapists, robbers, scum and pigs."
About a dozen violent attacks on drug treatment centers have occurred in the past year in Durango and Chihuahua states. News reports said the assailants in the Chihuahua case were from Los Aztecas, a gang that had its origins in U.S. prisons and now works with the Juarez cartel. The victims were all from groups working with the rival Sinaloa cartel. The two groups are locked in a vicious turf war over smuggling routes.
The cruelest aspect of the rehab center killings is that the attackers often try to exterminate everyone, whether they're the principle targets or simply people seeking treatment. "In these centers, no one wears IDs. Since they don't know who is who, they kill them all. That way, they are assured that they get their target and that there are no witnesses," said Carlos Zamudio Angles, a social scientist working in Mexico City with the Collective for An Integral Drug Policy, a coalition of specialists.
Even for regular families with addicts, drug centers can be ugly places. Parents commit unruly adolescents or even their adult children against their will for months at a time. Beatings are often part of therapy, hygiene can be poor and lax enforcement of regulations prevails. No one knows how many drug rehabilitation clinics and treatment centers there are. The Mexican government is expanding a series of Nueva Vida rehab centers for teenagers, erected since 2007 with $205 million confiscated from a Shanghai-born drug trafficker.
However, it largely leaves the work of treating hardened addicts to nonprofit associations, some run by former addicts with little training. Many treatment centers are semi-clandestine, hidden behind walls with no signs. A significant number of centers never register with the government. The former addicts who run them ask few questions of those who arrive for treatment, seeking nominal payment from family members. Demand is high due to soaring drug use. A U.N. report last year estimated that 1.7 million Mexicans use cocaine, consuming 27.6 tons a year, nearly double the amount in 2002. Mexicans consume 3.9 tons of heroin a year, it added. Some 3 million
Mexicans smoke marijuana, also a significant rise from earlier in the decade. Officials put the number of drug addicts in the nation at 428,000. President Felipe Calderon said drug cartels focused on Mexico as a market after per capita income tripled since 1993 to more than $10,000 last year nationwide and as much as $18,000 in Monterrey, a prosperous industrial hub near the border with Texas.