- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 26, 2007

MEXICO CITY

Drug-related violence has reached alarming levels in Mexico, killing nearly 1,400 people so far this year even though military troops have entered the battlefield against traffickers, new figures show.

Barely a day goes by without reports of new execution-style killings, such as last week’s discovery of two charred bodies in the border city of Tijuana, a hot spot in the illegal drug trade.

Security forces are ambushed in broad daylight, journalists reporting on the violence are targeted by gunmen and kidnappers, and rival drug gangs engage in bloody shootouts in city streets.

So far this year, as many as 1,382 persons have been killed, according to press reports, on pace to surpass last year’s total of 2,100. That represents a steady increase from the 1,080 drug-related fatalities reported in 2001.

Of those killed between Jan. 1 and June 11 this year, 134 were found to have been tortured, 13 were beheaded, and warning messages from drug cartels were found pinned to 53 bodies, according to the press accounts.

President Felipe Calderon, who took power in December, has pledged to put an end to the bloodshed, and deployed more than 20,000 military troops to the flash points of the drug violence to battle the powerful cartels.

The troops face a daunting task in a country notorious for official corruption, where ill-paid policemen and top law-enforcement officials have been accused of collusion with the drug gangs.

Security Minister Genaro Garcia announced yesterday the demotion of 284 federal police chiefs in the government’s latest attempt to contain the bloody drug trade.

The heads of the two main federal agencies in each of Mexico’s 32 states are among the senior police officers who have been given lower ranks and will be retrained, the minister said in a press conference.

Mr. Garcia told reporters that the low salaries given to police officers make for “cheap corruption costs for organized crime.” But he added only a handful of the senior officers were being investigated for taking bribes and would not provide other details.

Some critics claim the government could do more to target the higher-ups who protect the violent cartels.

“They should be working in a surgical manner against those in power who have benefited from the narcotics trafficking,” said Jose Antonio Ortega, who heads the Citizens’ Council for Public Security, a private watchdog group.

“No major political operator, no money launderer has been detained,” said Mr. Ortega, who insisted there was “evident complicity” between the drug kingpins and some police and political officials.

U.S. authorities estimate that about 90 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States is smuggled through Mexico. In addition, Mexico is the largest foreign supplier of marijuana to the United States and also smuggles significant quantities of heroin and methamphetamine, according to the State Department’s 2007 drug-trafficking survey.