Calderón maintains most of the murders are related to cartel violence, that about 5 percent are innocent or bystanders. When answering questions from the public or media about the success of his strategy, the president insists it's a problem of "perception."

"We all have to work on the image of Mexico and the perception of the violence," is an oft-repeated answer.

Calderón won in 2006 in a highly contested election, and when his term ends in 2012, Mexicans could opt to return to PRI rule, when a policy of criminal tolerance reined in drug violence. The question is what role the U.S. government will play in a nation averse to foreign intervention.

"The consulate killings put Mexico drug violence higher up on the U.S. agenda. But will this be enough to change the bleak panorama for both nations?" Chabat asked. "The truth is not clear, at least in the short term. How long can Mexican people and even the U.S. government endure this violence?"

In the meantime, the people of Juárez are trapped.

"We lock ourselves up," said the U.S. consulate driver. "And at night, we dream of the dead."

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