Drug mafia-style executions a daily event
MEXICO CITY - Finding burnt corpses, bound or wrapped in blankets, bearing signs of torture and killed by an execution-style shot to the head has become routine in Mexico. They are the victims of a wave of drug trafficking-related violence, which has also become a thorn in relations with the United States.
Nearly 100 people were killed in this fashion this month, mainly close to the U.S. border, as part of the bloody wave of violence that broke out in 2005. The deaths last year totalled over 1,500, and the victims included journalists, police officers and members of the military, but most of all young men who were apparently linked to the drug mafias.
The freedom of action enjoyed by drug traffickers in Mexico created tension again this week with Washington, as has happened so frequently in recent years.
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza publicly rebuked the administration of President Vicente Fox on Wednesday for the continued violence.
The latest row was triggered when men dressed in army uniforms and driving military-style vehicles - apparently Mexican drug traffickers - drove across the U.S.-Mexican border Monday and engaged in a shoot-out with U.S. police officers.
"The reaction from Washington was the minimum that could be expected, because it was a very serious matter. Imagine what would happen if presumed U.S. soldiers came across into Mexico - everyone here would be very indignant," Jorge Chabat, a researcher at the Centre for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE), told IPS.
The public recrimination delivered by Garza to Mexico is the third of its kind since January 2005. Each time, the Fox administration has responded by complaining that the outbursts were undiplomatic, while denying all accusations.
Mexicoand the United States, which share a 3,200-kilometre border, regularly tout their "close cooperation" in the fight against drug trafficking. However, the incidents and complaints are constant.
In his public statement, Garza urged the Mexican government to take the increase in drug-related violence seriously.
"The level of violence certainly is exceptional. Never before in the history of Mexican mafias has there been as much violence as there is now," said Chabat, a prominent expert on drug trafficking and Mexico-U.S. relations.
The government and analysts attribute the exponential increase in drug mafia-style executions to an internal war between cartels for control over access routes to the United States, the world`s largest market for illegal drugs.
The battle is thought to have been sparked by the arrest of the top drug kingpins, a recognised achievement of the Fox administration.
"What we are seeing is that the government is unable to deal with the consequences of those arrests. It`s as if it had hit a beehive with a big stick, and now it has no idea what to do or how to control the bees," said Chabat.
The Mexican government has deployed hundreds of soldiers and police to the areas where the violence is at its worst, and has announced strategies to combat those responsible, but it has not managed to stop the murders.
Although the current wave of killings attributed to drug traffickers is of major proportions, surveys indicate that the violence does not particularly worry ordinary Mexicans.
"People basically see it as a problem between criminals and the police, that doesn`t touch them," Jeanette Golden, an expert in public opinion polls, told IPS.
Local drug traffickers, who have agreements with cartels in Colombia and other drug-producing countries, supply 70 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States, as well as large quantities of heroin, methamphetamines and marihuana.
The United States, one of the world`s leading producers of synthetic drugs, is home to an estimated 14 million drug users, of whom four million habitually use cocaine.
Although thousands of people have been arrested and prosecuted on drug trafficking charges in the last few years, and a number of cartel chiefs and top operators have been detained, U.S. authorities have admitted that drug trafficking remains alive and well.
The war on drugs is a failure, and the fight will be neverending unless demand falls off, or the use of some substances is legalised, according to Raquel Paredes, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
Observers fear that the power and present violence of Mexican drug traffickers may have some effect on Mexico`s presidential elections, scheduled for July.
But Chabat thought this unlikely. Although the drug trafficking world in Mexico is violent and corrupt, it keeps its distance from the country`s main political institutions, he said.
"They might be interested in buying off a few police officers or minor officials, but they prefer not to make too much noise, because it`s best for their business," he added.
Mexicowas governed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for 71 years, until Fox, a member of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), was elected president in 2000. During the PRI period, many observers talked about supposed close links between drug traffickers and the high echelons of power.
However, apart from the proven links between a few low-ranking officials and members of the armed forces and the mafias, nothing further has come to light.
Diego Cevallos, IPS
Published by: Magne Ove Varsi