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Warring cartels still control vast sections of Mexico, despite Mr. Calderon’s two-year crackdown, and have spawned an all-pervasive culture of violence. No one is immune.

Businesses have closed because they can’t afford to pay monthly extortion fees to local thugs. The rich have fled to the U.S. to avoid one of the world’s highest kidnapping rates. Many won’t leave their homes at night.

The government has launched an intensive housecleaning effort after high-level security officials were accused of being on the take from the Sinaloa cartel. In addition, several soldiers fighting the gangs were kidnapped, beheaded and dumped in southern Mexico last month with the warning: “For every one of mine that you kill, I will kill 10.”

Still, the U.S. government is extremely supportive of the Mexican president. It recently handed over $400 million in anti-drug aid. Mr. Obama met briefly with Mr. Calderon in Washington last week and promised to fight the illegal flow of U.S. weapons that arm the Mexican cartels.

Though fewer Americans are willing to drive across the border for margaritas and handicrafts, visitors are still flocking to other parts of Mexico. Also, the economy seems harder hit by the global crisis than by the growing violence.

The grim assessments from north of the border got wide play in the Mexican media but came as no surprise to people here. Many said the solution lies in getting the United States to give more help and let in more migrant workers who otherwise might turn to the drug trade to make a living.

Otherwise, the drug wars will spill ever more heavily into the United States, said Manuel Infante, an architect.

“There is a wave of barbarity that is heading toward the U.S.,” he said. “We are an uncomfortable neighbor.”