Mexican drug cartel threats lead U.S. to close Juarez consulate

Security personnel walk in front of the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad 
Juarez, Mexico, on Friday. The building was closed indefinitely.

Associated Press

Security personnel walk in front of the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Friday. The building was closed indefinitely.

JUAREZ, Mexico — Threats of drug cartel attacks against authorities have prompted U.S. officials to shut down their large consulate in this border city and provide no indication when the building might reopen.

A statement posted Thursday night on the consulate's Web site said the facility was reviewing its "security posture." The brief message urged Americans to avoid the general area around the heavily fortified, embassy-size building.

The consulate is the only place that processes immigrant visas in Mexico. "It is a very significant facility for us," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "There is some threat information that we received that we are evaluating. It is hard to know or judge whether the threat is related to the broad area where the consulate is or to the consulate itself."

The U.S. Embassy said it would reschedule appointments for visa applications through its call center. The Ciudad Juarez consulate processed 124,145 immigrant visa applications in 2009, plus about 120,000 travel visas, the state department said.

A car bombing in the city on July 15 that killed three has raised fears that new explosions could occur anytime.

The bombing was followed by a threat four days later warning that a more powerful bomb would be set off if authorities did not take action against corrupt federal police with alleged ties to the Sinaloa cartel. The July 15 incident and the subsequent threat have been linked to the Juarez cartel, the Sinaloa cartel's main rival for control of the area's smuggling routes.

The consulate was also closed temporarily in March after an employee, her husband and another employee's husband were gunned down by cartel assassins.

Juarez is Mexico's most dangerous city, with 1,645 killed so far this year, according to local media tallies.

About 300 people who arrived Friday morning — many from long distances — were surprised and irritated.

Maria Concepcion Morales traveled with two children 16 hours by bus from Zacatecas to be on time for her 7:45 a.m. appointment for a tourist visa.

"What am I going to do?" she said. "I don't have enough money to stay until Monday, when they're saying they will reopen."

Information from the Associated Press and the Washington Post was used in this report.

Troops kill cartel's 'capo'

Soldiers killed a top leader of the Sinaloa cartel in a raid on his posh hideout, dealing the biggest blow to Mexico's most powerful drug gang since President Felipe Calderon launched a military offensive against organized crime in 2006. Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, a reputed founder of Mexico's methamphetamine trade, was gunned down Thursday trying to escape soldiers in the western city of Guadalajara. Mexican authorities said he fired on soldiers as helicopters hovered overhead and troops closed in. Coronel was a close associate of Mexico's most wanted man, Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and was No. 3 in the organization after Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration described Coronel as a major trafficker who was "directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people" and called his death "a crippling blow" to the Sinaloa cartel.

Associated Press

Mexican drug cartel threats lead U.S. to close Juarez consulate 07/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 30, 2010 11:50pm]

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