- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 16, 2010

In the face of an increasingly bloody and desperate battle with illegal-drug traffickers, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has launched a full-scale defense of his government’s policies and called on his countrymen to step up their own efforts to defeat the powerful cartels.

In a lengthy essay and a nationally televised address this week, Mr. Calderon called for a full-scale assault on the cartels, denying that his administration’s own tough policies had provoked the violence to unprecedented levels.

“This is a battle that is worth fighting because our future is at stake,” he said in the 10-minute national address. “It’s a battle that, with all Mexicans united, we will win.”

He said the problem had grown worse when drug cartels focused on supplying the U.S. market began seeking to dominate markets inside Mexico and when, in 2004, the U.S. government eased restrictions on assault-weapons sales.

“Since then, it has become very easy for the criminal groups to acquire very powerful arms in the United States and to bring them to Mexico for criminal purposes,” Mr. Calderon said.

The speech and the essay came at the height of one of the bloodiest periods since Mr. Calderon took office in 2006, amid growing public skepticism of the government’s policies.

Five police officers were abducted and killed in the Apodaca district of Monterrey in northern Mexico on Wednesday. Fifteen suspected drug gang members were killed in a shootout just hours before the president’s address, while 10 police officers were killed in an ambush by gunmen on Monday.

With at least 160 deaths altogether in only six days, June is quickly becoming the deadliest month of Mr. Calderon’s presidency. Nearly 23,000 people have died in the drug war so far, the product of warring cartels and retaliation against an administration that is bearing down hard on the traffickers.

But analysts say that gaining the upper hand has proven difficult for Mr. Calderon, in part because of the growing power and wealth of the cartels and their ability to co-opt or corrupt local and national drug enforcement efforts.

“The cartels have become so infiltrated in government that they’re always two steps ahead,” said T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC). “You have a culture of corruption in Mexico, which is part of the problem.”

Mr. Calderon made a direct appeal to his countrymen to aid in the drug fight. A phone number for anonymous tips was broadcast below his image as he spoke Tuesday evening.

“To regain our security will not be easy or quick work, but it is worth the pain if we are to continue moving forward,” he said.

Robert Bonner, former Customs and Border Protection commissioner and Drug Enforcement Administration administrator, said that while the U.S. may not be responsible for as much of Mexico’s deadly drug problem as Mr. Calderon suggests, the U.S. government needs to do more to cut off the flow of drug money back to the cartels.

Those funds finance more gun purchases, but also pay the bribes that undercut local enforcement efforts, said Mr. Bonner, who is not related to the NBPC’s T.J. Bonner.

“We need to get away from the blame game,” Robert Bonner said. “We need to recognize that there is shared responsibility.”

Mr. Bonner noted that, though U.S. gun sales contribute to the level of violence, Mexico as a population is already much more heavily armed than the United States.

“The problem lies somewhere else,” he said. “That somewhere else is corruption in the government of Mexico that allows this violence to go on unabated.”

He added, “The object is to dismantle, deflate and destroy the drug cartels. It makes sense to me that President Calderon would be appealing to the Mexican public, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding and abhor the culture of impunity.”