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Click here for more about the drug war in Mexico.

Record Levels of Violence In Mexico Drug War

The drug war in Mexico is generating record levels of violence. The rate of killing in Juarez in 2008 is nearly double the rate from the year before. Meanwhile, the group Reporters Without Borders calls Mexico the deadliest country for journalists in the Americas.

The El Paso Times reported on July 6, 2008 ("Juarez slayings set record as cartels' drug war drags") that "Deaths fueled in part by the drug cartel war in the Juarez area are approaching 600, and at least one expert says the violence is not likely to end soon. As the Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels battle amid a crackdown by federal forces, more than 560 homicides have occurred so far this year. The total number of homicides for all of 2007 was 304. 'There are at least two reasons why it might get worse,' said Tony Payan, a Mexico expert and political science professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who is closely watching developments. 'One, there seems to be an impasse between the cartels. Neither seems to be winning out,' Payan said. 'Right now, it seems to be pretty much a tie.' Secondly, Payan said, the Mexican federal government does not appear to be willing to negotiate with the cartels as it is rumored to have done in the past. 'The government seems determined to finish them off.' The staggering toll is believed to be the highest in Juarez history. By comparison, in all of 1997, 250 people were slain. Some of those deaths occurred after the July 4 death of reputed drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes caused a power struggle within his cartel."

According to the El Paso Times, ""Chihuahua ( state ) continues to see the most pronounced levels of violence this year despite the deployment of troops and federal police," stated a monthly news report for June by the Justice in Mexico Project of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. The project, which studies criminal justice issues in Mexico, reported that the more than 500 "cartel-related deaths" in Chihuahua this year are more than three times the 2007 total."

Reporting on the situation in Mexico is made more difficult, to say the least, by the violence. The group Reporters Without Borders in its annual report on Mexico for 2008 said "Freedom of expression moved forward on paper with the decriminalisation of press offences at federal level, but in practice, the country is still the most deadly in the Americas for journalists, with two killed and three vanished in 2007. Three media assistants were also killed and prospects are not good with some local authorities working with organised crime."

The report further notes that "Felipe Calderón, of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN) who was narrowly elected president on 2 July 2006, faces a parliament divided between the country’s three main political forces and has to rely on the support of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico from 1929 to 2000. A similar situation between the federal government and the states (most of them still controlled by the PRI) has slowed efforts by the judiciary and federal authorities to fight impunity and local obstacles to free expression. Some regional officials showed contempt for the right to inform the public and in 2007 newspapers were seized, media outlets censored and attempts made to spy on journalists (in a town in Guanajuato state). The Chihuahua state government on 24 November dismissed a CNDH [Mexico's National Human Rights Commission] recommendation about physical attacks by state police on three journalists."

The Mexican government is reportedly planning to increase the size of its federal police force in response to the escalating violence. The Washington Post reported on July 11, 2008 ("Mexico plan adds police to take on drug cartels") that "The Mexican government plans to nearly double the size of its federal police force in order to reduce the role of the military in combating drug trafficking, under a confidential anti-narcotics strategy that officials made available Thursday. The plan, known as the Comprehensive Strategy Against Drug Trafficking, also involves purging local police forces of corrupt officers and initiating social measures -- such as improving safety in public spaces -- designed to improve public confidence in government agencies tainted by corruption. Elements of the plan have already been set in motion, including a massive police recruiting and training effort intended to reduce the country's dependence in the drug war on the military, which has been accused of numerous human rights violations. Other aspects are still in formative stages, such as fortifying poorly staffed border checkpoints to stifle the smuggling of arms and money into Mexico from the United States. The written strategy amounts to the most complete picture of Mexico's anti-narcotics game plan in a violent struggle over the past year and a half between the federal government and cartels that control the bulk of cocaine, marijuana and heroin smuggling into the United States. More than 2,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence this year, and Mexicans are horrified by almost daily reports of decapitations, shootouts and assassinations of police and municipal officials."

According to the Post, "The strategy builds on Mexico's renewed commitment to greater cooperation with foreign law enforcement officials after years of suspicion and insularity. Last month, President Bush signed a $400 million package to help Mexico fight cartels. The measure, known as the Merida Initiative, was pushed through in large part by lawmakers who said they were impressed by Mexican President Felipe Calderon's commitment to working more closely with U.S. law enforcement. The internal Mexican strategy formalizes the Calderon administration's multinational approach by strengthening information exchanges with South American cocaine-producing nations and with Central American nations that are key transit points."

The human rights violations alluded to in the excerpt above were reported on by the Washington Post the following day (Report cites abuses by Mexican military," July 12, 2008). According to the Post, "The National Human Rights Commission on Friday accused the Mexican military of wrongfully killing eight civilians at roadblocks, torturing witnesses and allowing soldiers accused of rights violations to escape prosecution during its continuing campaign against drug cartels. In a lengthy report, commission investigators documented a case of soldiers jamming splinters beneath the fingernails and toenails of a witness and forcibly injecting alcohol down his throat. The man had been mistaken for a drug dealer operating in the hills near the border south of Phoenix, the report said. In another case, soldiers stormed a house in the western village of Uruapan and allegedly tortured two suspects by stabbing their genitals with electric cattle prods. Other suspects were held at military facilities, forced to undress and barred from communicating with lawyers or family. Most of the abuses have gone unpunished, the report said. For instance, no action has been taken against soldiers suspected of shooting dead four civilians at a roadblock in the central state of Sinaloa, the report said. The commission's report held the military's top brass to be as responsible for the violations as the low- and mid-ranking soldiers accused of committing the actual offenses. In some instances, civilian law enforcement authorities have been impeded because the military delayed the release of information, the report said."

The Post noted that "Since taking office in December 2006, President Felipe Calderon has dispatched more than 30,000 solders and federal police officers to fight drug cartels. The military-style operations are credited, in large part, for the arrests of more than 26,000 drug suspects and the seizure of 1.6 million rounds of ammunition from cartels, according to the government. But Mexican and international human rights groups have repeatedly called for the withdrawal of the military, which they say is poorly prepared for policing. More than 980 rights complaints -- 75 percent of which are connected to the anti-narcotics operations -- have been filed against the military since Calderon took office. [Human rights commission president Jose Luis] Soberanes, who once called for the military "to return to its barracks," now says that the temporary use of soldiers is necessary to contain the growing power of drug cartels, which are blamed for more than 2,000 killings this year. On Friday, Soberanes reiterated his view that soldiers have a place in the fight but called on Calderon to set a date for their withdrawal. Many Mexican governors have applauded the president for dispatching the military and have urged him to send more troops. But the troops have not stemmed the violence. On Friday, officials in Culiacan, capital of Sinaloa, said this year's death toll of police and other public officials had reached 62, after two police officers were killed Thursday in a daylight shootout that left 10 other people dead."

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