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Mexico drug war deaths near 500

Violence continues despite Calderon's crackdown on cartels, a measure many critics say is just for show.

March 24, 2007|Hector Tobar | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Nearly 500 people have been killed in Mexico's drug wars this year, according to media reports here, despite a crackdown on the illicit trade by President Felipe Calderon.

The dead include dozens of police officers, the daughter of a retired army general, and a suspected cartel hit man in the northern city of Monterrey left with a knife sticking out of his chest and a message to local officials affixed to his body.

"Attorney General: Don't be a fool," the note said. It accused local officials of protecting Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa cartel, the bitter rival of the Gulf cartel, which is based in the border state of Tamaulipas. "This is just the beginning."

According to a tally kept by the Mexico City newspaper El Universal, along with other media reports, the number of drug-related killings had reached 492 by Friday.

Calderon's government, which took power in December, promised a get-tough approach against the drug trade, which claimed more than 2,000 lives last year.

This year, Calderon sent troops into the southern states of Guerrero and Michoacan, and to the border cities of Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo.

In Tijuana, federal forces disarmed the police in January in a bid to fight widespread corruption in the municipal force.

But the measures have been criticized by many observers here.

"These operations are not designed to directly confront the organized crime groups," said Jose Arturo Yanez, a researcher at the Professional Police Training Institute in Mexico City. "They are designed to have an effect in the media, so that the federal government can be seen in action."

Still, the government has scored some key successes. In January, Mexico extradited 15 suspected drug cartel leaders to the United States, including Osiel Cardenas, who was reputed to have been running the Gulf cartel from his cell at a maximum-security Mexican prison.

And last week, Mexico's organized crime unit confiscated more than $207 million in cash from alleged methamphetamine producers operating in a Mexico City mansion.

This week, authorities revealed that they had miscounted the cash and added more than $1 million to the total.

The huge haul included just 50 counterfeit U.S. $100 bills, authorities said. Karen P. Tandy, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, praised the raid as "the result of tremendous police work by Mexican law enforcement."

The anti-drug campaign has also suffered some serious setbacks.

Seven police and security officials were ambushed and killed at two police stations in Acapulco on Feb 7. On Sunday, the police chief of the town of Boca del Rio in Veracruz state and two of his officers were ambushed and slain.

"These massive executions of police officers are a new phenomenon, and no branch of the government is doing anything to stop them," Yanez said. In many cases, he added, government officials have suggested that the slain officers were linked to organized crime.

"On the one hand, you have organized crime killing officers, and on the other the government is investigating officers and firing them," Yanez said. "No one protects them."

On March 6, the top security official in the state of Tabasco survived an assassination attempt that killed one of his bodyguards. On Feb. 19, a congressman from Nuevo Laredo survived an attack that claimed the life of his driver.

Authorities say drug traffickers were probably responsible for the killing of Mireya Lopez Portillo, the daughter of a retired general, and her husband, Jordi Peralta, in the capital's wealthy Bosques de Las Lomas neighborhood March 17.

Some officials have suggested that the killings may be linked to the huge cash seizure, which took place two days earlier.

In an interview Thursday with Reuters, Calderon said his family had received numerous threats from traffickers.

"It's a war, it's an issue I know will be with us a long time," Calderon said.

"I probably won't see the end during my presidency."

Carlos Martinez and Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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