Pubdate: Sun, 23 Sep 2007
Source: Charlotte Observer (NC)
Copyright: 2007 The Charlotte Observer
Author: Jay Root, McClatchy Newspapers
Bookmark: (Mexico)
Bookmark: (Corruption - Outside U.S.)


Setback for Calderon Administration

Murders, Kidnappings Up Despite Federal Effort Against Drug Cartels

MEXICO CITY -- Gangland-style murders and kidnappings reached record
levels in Mexico during the first half of the year, a report from
Mexico's Congress has found, making Mexico one of the world's most
dangerous countries. One analyst who worked on the report said
Mexico's murder rate now tops all others in the Western Hemisphere.

"In a global context, we suffer from more homicides, that is to say,
violent deaths, than any other region in the world except for certain
regions on the African continent," said Eduardo Rojas, who helped put
together the crime report at the Center for Social and Public Opinion
Studies, a research arm of the Mexico's Chamber of Deputies.

The report, made public last week, was a setback for Mexican President
Felipe Calderon, whose tough new war on drug trafficking has sent
thousands of Mexican Army troops into the countryside and a record
number of drug suspects to the United States for trial.

According to the report, major federal crimes, which include
homicides, kidnappings and arms trafficking, rose 25 percent in the
first half of 2007 over the same period last year. In 2006, the same
crimes had risen 22 percent over the previous year.

Gangland-style executions have risen 155 percent since 2001, according
to the congressional report.

Crime has been on the rise in Mexico throughout the past decade as
drug cartels battle for control of lucrative smuggling routes. But the
new findings come at a politically charged time for the Calderon
administration, which is also confronting a new threat from an old foe
- -- the shadowy Popular Revolutionary Army or EPR, its Spanish acronym.
EPR's coordinated bombings of natural gas pipelines, first in July and
then in September, have exposed government intelligence failures and
the vulnerability of the petroleum infrastructure in Mexico, the
second-largest oil exporter to the United States. "The reality is the
government has been pursuing the top EPR leaders for at least five
years, and they haven't been able to catch them," said Mexican
political commentator Raymundo Riva Palacio. Experts believe the EPR,
a Marxist group that traces its origins to the armed guerrilla
movements of the 1970s, finances its activities with ransom from
kidnapped businessmen. The guerrillas say the attacks will continue
until authorities release two comrades who disappeared in Oaxaca in
May; state and federal officials say they're not in government
custody. Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora recently told
reporters that the guerrilla bombings "distract" authorities from
their battle against organized crime.

Mexico's violence is often spectacular and lurid, with tales of street
shootouts, decapitations and bomb blasts often filling Mexico's news
pages and airwaves.

Many prominent Mexicans have sought refuge in the U.S., but that is no
guarantee of safety. Mario Espinoza Lobato, a businessman and city
councilman from Ciudad Acuna, was gunned down Wednesday at his home in
neighboring Del Rio, Texas, authorities said. He was an outspoken
critic of the criminal gangs that he said had tried to kidnap him.
Officials here continue to insist efforts are paying off even if the
numbers don't show it.
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