EL PORVENIR, Mexico — The 14-year-old boy tied a few mattresses and a bedstead to the family pickup truck. He went back into his single-story yellow house for the cat, and chained up the gate. Then he drove off with his family, which was abandoning home, jobs, school and country.
All because the drug smugglers told them to.
Hundreds of families are fleeing the cotton-farming towns of the Juarez Valley, a stretch of border 50 miles east of Ciudad Juarez. In a new strategy, Mexican drug cartels seeking to minimize interference with their operations are using terrorist tactics to empty the entire area.
They have burned down homes in Esperanza ("Hope") and torched a church on Good Friday in El Porvenir ("The Future"). Wherever they strike, they leave notes ordering residents to leave.
"They were typewritten, and they said, 'You have just a few hours to get out,' " Christian, the 14-year-old, said as he set off for a new life in Texas. Like others cited in this story, he would give only his first name for fear of reprisal. Some were so afraid they wouldn't even give that.
In El Porvenir, which normally has about 3,000 residents, only a couple hundred appear to remain. During Easter Week, when schools were closed and the plaza would normally bustle, the only things moving in the center of town were a few stray dogs.
The exodus appears to be the work of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's most powerful drug organization. The Associated Press, citing U.S. intelligence, reported last week that the group has seized control of smuggling corridors through the region after a bloody, two-year battle with the Juarez cartel.
The cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, is trying to show locals who's in charge, experts and Mexican officials say. Mexican soldiers who arrested four men on Tuesday for allegedly torching more than 20 homes in the valley said all are connected to the Sinaloa cartel.