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‘Mexico’s Afghanistan’

The value of empowering a ground-level citizens group may be immeasurable. But $4 million is a mere fraction of the estimated $45 billion the Calderon administration has spent on the drug war since 2006.

While U.S. authorities back the war verbally, U.S. funding has been relatively small.

Congress has allocated $1.6 billion to aid Mexico’s anti-crime effort since 2008 through a program known as the Merida Initiative. The figure pales in comparison to the some $7 billion spent by the United States in support a similar drug war that plagued Colombia before spreading to Mexico.

State Department officials say the first few years of the Merida Initiative focused on police training and the delivery of U.S. military hardware. They say the program is now shifting toward strengthening Mexico’s justice system.

Analysts say such a shift will be needed if a sustainable decrease in crime is to be achieved because more than 75 percent of crimes in Mexico go unreported and because fewer than 2 percent ever result in prison sentences.

The Calderon administration’s strategy, meanwhile, of spreading some 45,000 army troops across the nation is yielding varied results.

The homicide rate may have dropped in Juarez, but it increased threefold during 2010 in the northeast state of Nuevo Leon, home of the ultraviolent Los Zetas cartel, according to the Trans-Border Institute.

Authorities arrested the cartel’s reputed leader, Daniel Elizondo Jesus Ramirez, also known as “El Loco” or “the Crazy One,” on May 21, a week after 49 decapitated and dismembered bodies were discovered along a highway in Nuevo Leon.

“The whole strategy of the Calderon administration is that federal forces would be a stopgap and after a while the states would take over. However, that’s not quite happening,” said Alejandro Hope, a private security analyst in Mexico City who until recently served as a senior official within CISEN, Mexico’s equivalent of the CIA.

“Institutional development at the local level is not happening at the pace it should be happening,” Mr. Hope said during a conference hosted by Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in March in Washington.

“This is concerning because in some cases, some states are pretty much Mexico’s Afghanistan,” he said. “[Federal forces] cannot leave because they will leave a mess. But [if] the federal forces are there in an open-ended operation, then there will not be any incentive for local governments to take charge.”

‘No narco-money here’

Juarez is struggling to be an exception, even if that means charting an unprecedented path to peace.

“What’s happening here in Juarez is that people are taking matters into their own hands,” said Christina Cunningham Hidalgo, who heads the Juarez chapter of Mexico’s National Chamber of Restaurants. “We can’t rely on the government to bring about a recovery. Business people are working together to make things change and bring the city back.”

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