If you asked Americans what countries posed a danger to the United States, most would probably point to an emboldened Iran, the militant havens of Afghanistan and Pakistan, or resurgent China and Russia.
But there is a growing fear in security circles that a nation at America’s doorstep may descend swiftly into chaos and prove an immediate threat. That country is Mexico, which is locked in an increasingly violent struggle with drug cartels.
"In terms of worst-case scenarios … two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico," says a major study by the United States Joint Forces Command that came out at the end of 2008.
The military planners go on to say that Mexico’s "government, its politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels."
An increasing number of Mexicans have been forced to live with the daily effects of murder, kidnapping and general lawlessness, but the violence is also spilling across the 2,000-mile border into the United States, which is the world’s largest consumer of illegal drugs as well as a major source of weapons used by the gangs that traffic them.
More than 5,300 Mexicans are thought to have been slain in 2008, double the number in 2007.
The conflict terrorizes communities throughout Mexico but Ciudad Juarez, a city with a population of about 1.3 million across the border from El Paso, Texas, is arguably suffering more than most.
The pictures by Shaul Schwarz tell Juarez’s story (on this page) and, by extension, that of other cities and towns swept up in the violence.
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