Mexico City: This year`s death toll in drug-related violence in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, the hardest hit by Mexico`s drug war, rose to 3,000 Tuesday after two men were shot dead on a street, authorities said.
Ciudad Juarez has seen its homicide rate rise to one of the highest in the world after vicious turf battles broke out between gangs representing the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels in 2008.
That year, 1,623 people were killed in drug-related violence, and the toll increased to 2,763 deaths in 2009.
With prosecutors` spokesman Arturo Sandoval announcing the latest grim milestone, a total of 7,386 people have died in the city of 1.3 million people across the border from El Paso, Texas, in three years. Most were members of rival drug gangs, but civilians, police and recovering drug addicts have also been targeted.
More than 28,000 people have died throughout Mexico in the four years since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against drug cartels when he took office in December 2006.
Touting government successes in that offensive, Calderon said Tuesday that a big party led to the demise of a drug cartel chief, who was killed in a shootout with federal police.
The La Familia gang invited hundreds of people to a party last week in the western city of Apatzingan and didn`t bother to keep it a secret, Calderon said in an interview with W Radio.
Federal police learned about it and the shootout broke out when they arrived to investigate, he said. The government says that La Familia leader Nazario Moreno, nicknamed "The Craziest One," was killed in battles that lasted two days and spread to key parts of Michoacan state, with gunmen blockading roads with burning vehicles.
"What happened those days is that we gave La Familia cartel the biggest blow in its history," Calderon said. "With a certain amount of insolence, they organized a party, a gathering of hundreds of their people. ... Everyone found out about the party."
The government says cartel gunmen fled with their dead during the shootouts, and Moreno`s body has not been recovered.
After Calderon spoke, the lower house of Mexico`s Congress voted 384-2, with 21 abstentions, to rescind the congressional immunity from prosecution of a fellow legislator accused of links to La Familia.
Congressman Cesar Godoy Toscano has denied the accusations, although tapes have surfaced in which he allegedly chats with a man identified as a leader of the cartel.
Godoy Toscano already faces federal charges for allegedly protecting La Familia, but congressmen in Mexico are given immunity from arrest while in office. Tuesday`s vote suspended him from Congress, but provided that he can return to office if he is acquitted or the charges are dropped.
While Godoy Toscano had filed an appeal against his arrest on the first set of charges, which is still working its way through the courts, the Attorney General`s Office said Tuesday it will file a second set of charges against him alleging money laundering.
A statement by the office did not give specifics of the new charges, or any indication of whether allegedly laundered money may have been used in Godoy Toscano`s election campaign.
The congressman was not present at the vote, and his whereabouts were unclear.
La Familia has been the most flamboyant of Mexico`s drug cartels. The gang claims it is trying to protect Michoacan — Calderon`s home state — from other cartels and common criminals, a message it touts in banners and even in occasional interviews with the news media.
The gang has not bothered to lower its profile since Moreno`s reported death. Sympathizers — some with small children — have marched repeatedly in Apatzingan and the state capital of Morelia, carrying signs supporting the capo and demanding the withdrawal of federal forces.
On Tuesday, the Interior Department issued a statement saying such demonstrations show only the cartels` "incipient penetration of some local sectors, but not any social support for crime and its tactics."
Moreno, 40, was considered the ideological leader of La Familia, setting a code of conduct for members that prohibits using hard drugs or dealing them within Mexican territory.