Drug, Paramilitary Violence Creates Ghost Towns in Mexico

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Three towns in Mexico have lost large portions of their residents in recent years, as locals fled worsening violence at the hands of drug gangs and paramilitaries, according to a report from Animal Politico.

Animal Politico says that between 2005 and 2010 the municipalities of Santo Domingo Ixcatlan, Praxedis G. Guerrero, and Guadalupe lost 44.5, 43.6, and 29 percent of their populations.

Praxedis G. Guerrero is a border town with key infrastructure for the drug trade and has become a battleground for the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels. This town became famous when its 20-year-old chief of police, Marisol Valles (see photo), sought asylum in the United States after just five months on the job.

In nearby Guadalupe, radio operator Erika Gandara decided to undertake solo patrols of the 6,200 square kilometer community when the municipal police force disbanded in 2010. She disappeared in December 2010 when armed men kidnapped her from her home.

In the case of Santo Domingo Ixcatlan, called a “ghost town” by one human rights advocate, paramilitaries with alleged links to local government have driven out almost half the population over an ongoing land dispute.

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These small towns have been devastated by violence. In Praxedis G. Guerrero, for example, three people were killed in gang confrontations in 2008, a number that spiked to 33 in 2009 and 35 in 2010.

While each case has different protagonists, they share a common factor in that the government appears unable or unwilling to halt the violence. Mexico’s security forces have, in many cases, been stretched to breaking point or simply abdicated, with the majority of staff quitting or being dismissed.

Small-town police forces like Guadalupe’s have been whittled down to nothing, and college students have become police commanders because nobody else will take the job.

The trend is not limited to small towns. Veracruz, Mexico’s largest port city, recently dissolved its police force of more than 800 officers and 300 adminstrative staff.

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