MEXICO CITY — More Americans in Mexico are falling victim to a wave of drug violence sweeping the country, a change driven home by the recent killing of a U.S. Consulate employee and her husband who were gunned down after leaving a children's birthday party.
The number of U.S. citizens killed in Mexico has more than doubled to 79 in 2009 from 35 in 2007, according to the U.S. State Department's annual count. No figures were available for the first two months of 2010.
While only some of the killings are specifically listed as "executions" or "drug-related," the increase in homicides appears to be related to drug battles. In Ciudad Juarez, the northern border city hit hardest by drug violence and where the consulate employee was killed, homicides of Americans rose to 23 in 2009 from two in 2007.
The annual murder rate for the estimated 500,000 American citizens in Mexico at any one time has risen — but still remains lower than in some U.S. cities: about 15 per 100,000. Baltimore's 2009 homicide rate was 37 per 100,000 residents.
American deaths make up only a tiny fraction of Mexico's 17,900 drug-related killings since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led drug war.
On Saturday, a clash among armed men left eight people dead in the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa. The bodies of seven men were found inside two cars along a highway connecting the cities of Culiacan and Mazatlan, said Sinaloa prosecutors' spokesman Martin Gastelum. An eighth victim, dressed in a fake federal police uniform and holding a grenade, was found near the cars, Gastelum said.
The government says the majority of those killed were involved in the drug trade. But an increasing number of bystanders are dying in the crossfire, and Americans are among them.
Americans whose relatives have become victims of Mexico's drug war have established an informal group to support one another and stay informed about what is happening south of the border. "America needs to wake up and smell the kidnappings, smell the drug war," Jackie Batista, the sister of a victim, says.