To reach the deadliest place in Mexico you take Carretera Federal 2, a well-paved stretch of highway that begins at the outskirts of Juarez, east for 50 miles along the Rio Grande, passing through cotton and alfalfa fields until you reach the rural Juarez Valley, said to have the highest murder rate in the country, if not the world.
The Juarez Valley is a narrow corridor of green farmland carved from the Chihuahuan desert along the Rio Grande. Farmers proudly say it was once known for its cotton, which rivaled Egypt’s. But that was before the booming growth of Juarez’s factories in the 1990s left farmers downstream with nothing but foul-smelling sludge to irrigate their fields. After that, the only industry that thrived was drug smuggling. Because of the valley’s sparse population and location along the Rio Grande’s dried up riverbed, a person can easily drive or walk into Texas loaded down with marijuana and cocaine.
For decades, this lucrative smuggling corridor, or “plaza,” was controlled by the Juarez cartel. In 2008, Mexico’s largest, most powerful syndicate—the Sinaloa cartel, run by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman—declared war on the Juarez cartel and moved in to take over the territory. The federal government sent in the military to quell the violence. Instead the murder rate in the state of Chihuahua exploded. The bloodshed in the city of Juarez made international news. It was dubbed the “deadliest city in the world.”
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