Regional
5:23 pm
Fri April 16, 2010

Families Flee Border Towns

Juarez, Mexico – Hundreds of families are fleeing the cotton-farming towns of the Juarez Valley, a stretch along the Texas-Mexico border 50 miles east of Ciudad Juarez.

All because the drug smugglers told them to.

In a new strategy, Mexican drug cartels seeking to minimize interference with their operations are using terror to empty the entire area.

They have burned down homes in Esperanza ("Hope") and torched a church on Good Friday in El Porvenir ("The Future"). Wherever they strike, they leave notes ordering residents to leave.

In El Porvenir, which normally has about 3,000 residents, only a couple hundred appear to remain. During Easter Week, when schools were closed and the plaza would normally bustle, the only things moving in the center of town were a few stray dogs.

The exodus appears to be the work of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's most powerful drug organization. The Associated Press, citing U.S. intelligence, reported last week that the group has seized control of smuggling corridors through the region after a bloody two-year battle with the Juarez cartel.

Experts and Mexican officials say the cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, is now trying to show locals who's in charge. Mexican soldiers who arrested four men on Tuesday for allegedly torching more than 20 homes in the valley said all are connected to the Sinaloa cartel.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.