This from the Guardian (UK):
Battles and beheadings as vicious drugs war spirals out of control
Violence soars as military offensive attempts to contain territorial struggle between rival trafficking gangs
[FONT=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif]Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
Thursday June 14, 2007
Male, about 40, gaffer tape over his eyes, tortured, strangled, shot twice, and dumped on a patch of wasteland - and wrapped in Christmas paper.
Without the yuletide motif the unidentified corpse would have been just another statistic. As it was, the extra detail earned him a brief mention in the nightly news roundup. Every day Mexicans are bombarded with the shocking, and at times bizarre, details of a territorial struggle between rival drug-trafficking gangs, and their battle against a major military-led offensive launched six months ago by President Felipe Calderón.
The El Universal newspaper claims the number of execution-style murders for the year reached 1,000 by May 15 - six weeks earlier than they did last year, and more than three months earlier than the year before that. By last Sunday the paper's count had reached 1,263.
As the violence increases observers are questioning whether the military offensive can ever fulfil its objective of reimposing order in the large parts of the country blighted by organised crime. Some warn it could be the prelude of far worse to come. "The risks are really high both for the Calderón presidency and for Mexico's institutions," said Bruce Bagley, a drug trafficking expert from Miami University. "This is a bomb with a fuse that has been lit."
The crackdown began on December 11 2006, with 7,000 soldiers sent to the central state of Michoacan, the site of some of last year's most shocking violence, including an incident in which five severed heads rolled on to a disco dancefloor.
Now there are some 25,000 troops and military-style federal police deployed across the country, but the traffickers hardly seem intimidated. This week a threat to the public security chief in the eastern state of Veracruz was delivered via a note beside a severed head, and two police stations in the Pacific state of Guerrero were attacked with grenades. Last week assassins gunned down two men in a Mexico City funeral parlour and two gift-wrapped grenades were left in the capital's metro.
Last month gunmen killed a federal intelligence chief, and a commando of 50 hitmen travelled 200 miles through the desert to abduct 13 people in a small town near the US border.
Some 69% of Mexicans believe that the term "war" aptly describes what is going on, according to a poll released this month by the Reforma newspaper. But is it winnable? "The [Mexican] army can no more control this situation than the Americans and the British can control the situation in Iraq," says Samuel González, a former Mexican drugs tsar and security analyst. "The army can make its presence felt and perhaps limit some of the most extreme expressions of the violence, but the structural causes remain."
Mexico's drug traffickers rose to supremacy on the continent after the demise of the big Colombian cartels in the 1990s. The cocaine is grown in the Andes but the Mexicans control 90% of the routes into the US market, according to US reports that also note growing Mexican involvement in methamphetamine production and trafficking. With repatriated profits estimated at $8bn-$25bn (£4bn-£12.5bn) a year, outbreaks of turf violence are hardly surprising and nothing new. But, analysts say, they have never before reached today's scale.
Most analysts link the spiral of narco violence to the greater importance attached to territorial control since Mexico became a market, as well as a transit point, for illegal drugs. Some also say a near obsession with catching kingpins in the past triggered bloody internal power struggles within trafficking organisations, and encouraged provocative territorial grabs by rivals in areas previously dominated by the imprisoned leaders.
The main battle today is between the Sinaloa Cartel (headed by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán) and the Gulf Cartel (whose veteran leader Osiel Cárdenas was extradited to the US in January).
But this is a proxy war in most of the country, filtered through local organisations fighting local battles at the same time. Leading drug analyst Luís Astorga associates the current chaos with the collapse of the one-party system that governed Mexico until 2000, which had both provided an orderly framework for corruption and been powerful enough to set limits on the violence.
President Calderón is right, he says, to try to fill the authority vacuum left by the new democracy, but to rely so heavily on the army to do this is potentially disastrous. Mexicans largely trust the military - seen as a clean alternative to the deeply corrupt civilian police forces. "We could have the Zetas phenomenon multiplied," Astorga says, referring to the notoriously well-trained and ruthless hitmen of the Gulf Cartel formed from military deserters in the late 1990s. "That would take the violence associated with drug trafficking to a whole other level."
Human rights activists, meanwhile, see massive army involvement as a recipe for abuse. Earlier this month two women and three children died when soldiers opened fire on a car passing a mountain checkpoint. In another incident in May soldiers allegedly raped five young women.
"Calderón is playing with fire," says political analyst Jorge Zepeda. "It took an enormous effort to remove the generals from power in the 1940s; there are huge dangers with giving them such a key role again."
Many believe a better answer lies in an overhaul of the police and a crackdown on corruption. But that would require a degree of political consensus improbable in Mexico's deeply polarised environment. In fact many observers interpret Calderón's offensive, launched days after he took office, as an attempt to cement himself in power after a wafer-thin election victory shrouded by accusations of fraud.
Today the president is enjoying high approval ratings, but pollsters warn these could start to ebb away if the violence does not begin to fall off soon.
The government and some sympathetic analysts say it is natural for things to get worse before they get better. "They are trying to generate political fallout to force a retreat," federal security chief Genaro García said recently. "They will not succeed." In the meantime Calderón finds himself trying to avoid comparisons with Colombia in the early 90s - when drugs kingpin Pablo Escobar put a price on every policeman's head - and is highlighting the more successful Italian fight against the Mafia.
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