Pubdate: Wed, 29 Jul 2009
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Copyright: 2009 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: William Booth and Steve Fainaru, Washington Post


US-Backed Plan Not Working, Say Political Leaders

MEXICO CITY - President Felipe Calderon is under growing pressure to
overhaul a US-backed antinarcotics strategy that many political
leaders and analysts said is failing amid stunning drug cartel
assaults against the government.

There are now sustained calls in Mexico for a change in tactics, even
from allies within Calderon's political party, who say the deployment
of 45,000 soldiers to fight the cartels is a flawed plan that relies
too heavily on the blunt force of the military to stem soaring
violence and lawlessness.

"The people of Mexico are losing hope, and it is urgent that Congress,
the political parties, and the president reconsider this strategy,"
said Ramon Galindo, a senator and Calderon supporter who is a former
mayor of Ciudad Juarez, a border city where more than 1,100 people
have been killed this year.

US officials said they now believe Mexico faces a longer and bloodier
campaign than anticipated and is likely to require more American aid.
US and Mexican officials increasingly draw comparisons to Colombia,
where from 2000 to 2006 the United States spent $6 billion to help
neutralize the cartels that once dominated the drug trade. While
violence is sharply down in Colombia, cocaine production is up.

Mexico, nearly twice Colombia's size, faces a more daunting challenge,
many officials and analysts said, in part because it is next to the
United States, the largest illegal drug market in the world. In
addition, at least seven major cartels are able to recruit from
Mexico's swelling ranks of impoverished youth and thousands of
disenfranchised soldiers and police officers.

"The question is whether the country can withstand another three years
of this, with violence that undermines the credibility of the
government," said Carlos Flores, who has studied the drug war
extensively for Mexico City's Center for Investigations and Advanced
Studies in Social Anthropology. "I'd like to be more optimistic, but
what I see is more of the same polarizing and failed strategy."

US and Mexican government officials say the military strategy, while
difficult, is working. Since Calderon took office in December 2006,
authorities have arrested 76,765 suspected drug traffickers at all
levels and have extradited 187 cartel members to the United States.
Calderon's security advisers said they have few options besides the
army - as they just begin to vet and retrain the police forces they
say will ultimately take over the fight.

"No one has told us what alternative we have," said Interior Minister
Fernando Gomez Mont, gently slapping his palm on a table during an
interview. "We are committed to enduring this wave of violence. We are
strengthening our ability to protect the innocent victims of this
process, which is the most important thing. We will not look the other

Drug-related deaths during the 2 1/2 years of Calderon's
administration passed 12,000 this month. Rather than shrinking or
growing weaker, the Mexican cartels are using their wealth and
increasing power to expand into Central America, cocaine-producing
regions of the Andes, and maritime trafficking routes in the eastern
Pacific, according to law enforcement authorities.

In Mexico, neither high-profile arrests nor mass troop deployments
have stopped the cartels from unleashing spectacular acts of violence.
This month, the cartel called La Familia launched three days of
coordinated attacks in eight cities in the western state of Michoacan.
Responding to the arrest of one its leaders, La Familia abducted,
tortured, and killed a dozen federal agents; their corpses were found
piled up beside a highway.

In Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Calderon
flooded the city with 10,000 troops and federal police officers in
February in an effort to stem runaway violence. After a two-month
lull, drug-related homicides surged 307 percent, to nearly eight
killings a day in June. Last Wednesday, a man eating lunch at a
Denny's restaurant across the street from the US Consulate was shot
six times in the head by three gunmen.

Lawmakers in Chihuahua state, where Juarez is located, debated this
month whether Calderon's surge was "a total failure." Antonio Andreu,
president of the state legislature's commission on security, said it
appears drug gangs have infiltrated the military's intelligence
networks and figured out how to circumvent Juarez's gantlet of
security forces.

Hector Hawley Morelos, the state forensics chief for Juarez, said he
expects this year to be bloodier than the last. He said the soldiers
don't help solve crime cases and often get in the way of

But Calderon has no intention of changing course, according to senior
Mexican officials. In some respects, the government has become more
combative. After a La Familia leader called a television station and
said the cartel was "open to dialogue," Gomez Mont vowed that the
government would never strike a deal with the traffickers.

"We're waiting for you," he warned La Familia.

In the interview, Gomez Mont said that to ease up now would be to
sanction criminal behavior and its corrupting influence on Mexican

"We know we are right," he said. "Do I have to accept corruption as a
way of stabilizing our society? No. I have to act."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake