Pubdate: Thu, 28 Apr 2011
Source: Economist, The (UK)
Copyright: 2011 The Economist Newspaper Limited


Shallow Graves, Deepening Alarm

Still No End to the Horrors

OFFICIALLY, nearly 35,000 people have been killed since Mexico's
president, Felipe Calderon, began an assault on his country's
drug-trafficking "cartels" at the end of 2006. But the true body count
will never be known. On April 6th police discovered mass graves near
San Fernando, a town in Tamaulipas state near the border with the
United States, which so far have yielded 183 bodies. Two weeks later
hidden tombs were discovered in the north-western city of Durango from
which 100 corpses have so far been extracted.

The Tamaulipas victims were apparently killed with sledgehammers or
burned alive. They included a car salesman, a social worker and a
Guatemalan migrant. Investigators believe they were kidnapped from
buses to be robbed and raped by the Zetas cartel. The authorities'
failure to stop the slaughter, even as unclaimed luggage mounted at
bus terminals, is stunning: only last summer, 72 migrants were found
murdered near San Fernando, supposedly by the same cartel. However,
police did free two groups of kidnapped migrants elsewhere in the
state this month. Explore our interactive map of Mexico's drug traffic
routes, "cartel" areas and crime-related homicides

The killings undermine the government's claim that drug-war casualties
are almost all criminals. Mexicans are tiring of this war without end.
On April 6th there were protest marches in 21 states, following the
suffocation with duct tape of seven youths in the formerly quiet city
of Cuernavaca. Polls shows that for the first time under Mr Calderon
worries about security trump those about the economy. Although cartel
henchmen continue to fall--11 middle-ranking Zetas have been killed or
captured this year--there is no shortage of new recruits. La Familia
Michoacana, a gang that was virtually destroyed in January, announced
its rebirth as the "Knights Templar" in March. From the ruins of the
Beltran Leyva cartel, smashed last year, have sprung two new upstarts.

Some analysts say the plague of kidnapping (up fourfold compared with
2005) and extortion may show that government pressure is forcing some
drug cartels to diversify. Organised crime in the region has never
been only about drugs: as well as cargo theft, prostitution and the
like, the Sinaloa mob is said to have interests in avocados; in El
Salvador, a feared "cheese cartel" imports dodgy dairy products from

Whoever the perpetrators of these horrors and whatever their motives,
they clearly counted on official complicity. Of the 74 people arrested
so far in connection with the butchery in Tamaulipas, 17 are local
police officers. More than four years after Mr Calderon launched his
assault, his government has yet to create a national policing system
it can rely on.  
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake