World News

Pink bikers fight Mexican drug war by helping poor

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - A group of middle-class Mexican women on pink motorcycles is handing out food and medicine to the poor in one of the world’s deadliest cities to both protest and allay the widespread deprivation it says is fueling the violence.

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Braving drug gang turf wars in Ciudad Juarez that have killed some 6,700 people since 2008, including hundreds of women, the club that calls itself “Las Guerreras” (The Female Warriors) rides out on custom-made choppers every Sunday to dangerous neighborhoods that ring the factory city bordering El Paso, Texas.

In cramped, metal-roofed homes on unpaved streets, the 10-member group comprising teachers, off-duty police officers and businesswomen volunteer their time to help single mothers, addicts, the elderly and the jobless, many of whom have no access to welfare and feel completely abandoned.

They hand out cash, medicines, food, clothing and even birthday cakes, paid for out of their own pockets. Sometimes they just provide a sympathetic ear.

“There are people who have nothing, or almost nothing,” said Lorenia Granados, a co-founder of the group set up two years ago, just after gunmen killed seven young men on a soccer field not far from the place she was volunteering on Sunday.

The women say their pink bikes aim to project a less threatening, feminine image that sets them apart from drug hitmen sometimes known to kill targets from motorcycles.

Despite playing host to 340 factories exporting to the United States and handling billions of dollars in cross-border trade every year, Ciudad Juarez has become one of Mexico’s most desperate cities.

In a forlorn desert region with few schools or opportunities, poorly paid or unemployed youngsters are enticed into joining gangs to kill rivals for as little as $100 a hit.

Many social workers and drug trade experts blame years of political corruption and mismanagement for the lack of support for the poor. President Felipe Calderon, who assigned the military to fight drug gangs from December 2006, launched a major social program aimed at rebuilding Ciudad Juarez last year, but locals say progress is slow.

“No one does anything,” said 60-year-old Sanjuana Flores, whose daughter, a drug addict, was shot dead in 2008, leaving behind four children that Flores now looks after. Flores, receiving a handout of meat and vegetables from the pink bikers, said she was frustrated. “I’ve asked for help from the town hall and from town councilors. They promise things, but they are all lies,” she said.

The Warriors say so far they’ve not been threatened or attacked on their weekly rounds. “We’re just trying to make a difference in the hope that someday peace will return,” Granados said before pulling on her helmet, revving her engine and riding away.

Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Eric Walsh