By Hector Saavedra
CIUDAD JUAREZ -- More than 1,600 people were murdered in 2008 in Ciudad Juarez, which is across the border from El Paso, Texas, making it, according to tallies published in the press, the most violent city in Mexico.
The year ended with a total of 1,605 people murdered in the border city, including 71 federal, state and municipal police officers, as well as 85 bank robberies, an average of 10 cars stolen per day and more than 20 businesses burned, the press tallies published on New Year's Eve said.
The last few months of 2008 also saw citizens living in fear of telephone extortion rackets that spread rapidly and prompted anti-crime marches by grassroots groups in the city, which became infamous for the murders and disappearances of more than 400 women since 1993.
The government, however, could not contain the wave of violence in Juarez, where army and federal police forces were bolstered in late March in an unsuccessful effort to battle criminal groups.
December was the second-bloodiest month of the year, with 195 murders reported, surpassed only by August, when 228 people died.
On Dec. 15, four municipal police were killed and one was wounded in simultaneous attacks on various targets in this violent metropolis.
The head of police operations in Ciudad Juarez, Francisco Ledesma Salazar, was killed while driving in his SUV on Jan. 20, just days after police chief Juan Antonio Roman was gunned down.
Also making headlines was the Jan. 16 arrest in El Paso of Saulo Reyes Gamboa, a former Juarez police department operations chief, on drug charges.
The public has lost patience with the situation, sparking protests and a chain e-mail last month that called for acts of civil disobedience and non-payment of taxes if things did not get better.
On Dec. 12, doctors from public and private clinics across Chihuahua state, where Juarez is located, staged a 24-hour strike to protest crime.
Lawyers from Ciudad Juarez and other parts of Chihuahua joined in an earlier protest, calling for investigations into the killings of some of their colleagues.
In 2008, Juarez lived through days when dozens of people were murdered in the span of a few hours and armed groups committed acts of violence in public and recreation areas that terrorized residents.
On Nov. 29, eight men were murdered by gunmen at a seafood restaurant packed with diners, who ran into the streets to save themselves.
Six men, including two customers, were murdered on Dec. 19 at a garage, marking the last massacre of the year.
The violence, which intensified in recent months, overwhelmed the coroner's office, which was conducting 15 to 20 autopsies a day, causing delays in the release of bodies.
During 2008, 300 local police officers were fired for having links to organized crime groups.
The 2008 murder figures highlight the power of Mexico's drug cartels, whose violence has pervaded all aspects of life and exposed their links to local authorities, who have sometimes provided protection for the criminals.
Armed groups linked to the drug mobs murdered around 2,700 people in 2007 and 1,500 in 2006, with the 2008 death toll at around 5,400, according to press tallies.