Mexican Border State Drug Rehabs Prove Favored Targets for Cartels

Police Tape at Border in Mexico Ciudad Juárez
Image: Reuters
Chihuahua, MX

The recent attack at a drug rehab center in the border state of Chihuahua brings back a long-standing practice used by cartel gunmen dating back years. Getting to their rivals when their guards are down, gunmen often target drug centers and clinics which often leads to multiple innocent casualties.

Last month, a squad of cartel gunmen wearing tactical gear stormed into a drug rehab center called “Grupo Uniendo Familias: Clinica Para Vivir Mejor” and began spraying bullets, Breitbart Texas reported. The attack initially killed 16, however two others died soon after. 

State authorities named the Juarez Cartel enforcement wing, Los Aztecas, responsible for the job. The mass murder is believed to be part of the ongoing turf war between factions of the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels.   

Members of the Sinaloa Cartel-linked gang, Los Mexicles, were reportedly undergoing treatment at the rehab center prior to the attack by their rivals, Los Aztecas. The two gangs are fighting over the control of the street-level distribution of crystal methamphetamine. 

Experts believe such attacks occur because many of the patients staying in the centers are members of gangs and they continue to engage in criminal activity–or their rivals seek them out for revenge for previous engagements. Although these attacks shocked the public, the government of Mexico has done very little to prevent such instances from re-occurring. Many of these centers are used by cartels and affiliated gangs as recruitment centers and business hubs.

In several instances, the government shut down several centers after discovering they were not licensed.

There is a history of violence connected to rehab centers which primarily occurs in northern Mexico. This listing below is not exhaustive due to limited local media reporting. All attacks included multiple, heavily armed gunmen usually dressed in tactical gear.

2008 – the State of Chihuahua, two different attacks left 10 dead.

May & June 2009 – Chihuahua, Chihuahua, six people killed in two different attacks.  

September 3, 2009 – Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, 18 killed, five wounded.  

September 15, 2009 – Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, 10 killed when gunmen stormed the center and tossed a grenade into a room with patients and finished them off with AK-47 gunfire.

June 20, 2010 – City of Chihuahua, 19 killed, four wounded.

June 26, 2010 – Gomez Palacio, Durango, nine killed, nine wounded.

October 25, 2010 – Tijuana, Baja California Norte, 13 killed, believed to be linked to a record seizure of 134.2 tons of marijuana. After the massacre, narco-hitmen that were believed to have been responsible began transmitting over a police radio frequency warning that there was going to be 135 murders (believed to be referencing 134 tons) while playing a narco-corrido (narco-folk music).

June 2011 – Torreon, Coahuila, 13 killed, two wounded.

June 4, 2012 – Torreon, Coahuila 11 killed, 10 wounded.

September 2017 – Chihuahua, Chihuahua, 18 killed.

In most of the cases, the wounded are required to be transported to local hospitals with police or military escorts.

Robert Arce is a retired Phoenix Police detective with extensive experience working Mexican organized crime and street gangs. Arce has worked in the Balkans, Iraq, Haiti, and recently completed a three-year assignment in Monterrey, Mexico, working out of the Consulate for the United States Department of State, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Program, where he was the Regional Program Manager for Northeast Mexico (Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas.)

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