- Title: MEXICO: Four years on, drug war bleeds Mexican heartland
- Date: 30th November 2010
- Summary: PATZCUARO, MICHOACAN, MEXICO (NOVEMBER 25, 2010) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF OFFICIALS DISMANTLING METH LAB MORELIA, MICHOACAN, MEXICO (NOVEMBER 24, 2010) (REUTERS) SOUNDBITE (Spanish) PRESIDENT OF THE HOTEL OWNERS ASSOCIATION, BEATRIZ PEREZ, SAYING: "If we ourselves are insecure, how can we tell a foreigner, 'Come to visit our country,' if we ourselves are insecure?"
- Embargoed: 15th December 2010 12:00
- Location: Mexico, Mexico
- Country: Mexico
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement
- Reuters ID: LVA8T8TWDMQCWLSF4CFTDONOH360
- Story Text: A four-year army crackdown in Mexico's methamphetamine-producing heartland has provoked a dizzying increase in violence, fueling fears that the country is losing its battle against organized crime.
Grisly assassinations and gang extortion are terrifying Mexicans in the western state of Michoacan, where President Felipe Calderon launched his war on drug cartels, sending in about 5,000 soldiers in December 2006 following a narrow election victory.
Despite heavily armed patrols, hundreds of drug lab busts and thousands of arrests, locals say gangs in the president's home state wield huge power, ramping up drug output while using terror and bribes to control towns mired in poverty.
Institutional Revolutionary Party's Michoacan representative Victor Silva said the president needed more time
"I think the presidential strategy still does not show the expected results at a national level and in the state of Michoacan. We need more time to see the first results," he said.
Almost 300 people were killed by drug hitmen between January and October in the state, and Michoacan's 2010 total could near the 371 executions seen in 2009, according to an independent drug trade analyst.
Total murders jumped to 2,265 last year, compared to 560 in 2006.
The army's arrival on December 11, 2006, in the lush valleys of Michoacan, only a few hours from Mexico City, was hailed by many Mexicans and Washington as a bold departure after decades where drug lords were allowed to control vast fiefdoms in league with dirty politicians.
But the traffickers in Michoacan continue to openly defy authorities, despite the added presence of elite police.
Residents have increasingly become fearful after dramatic public incidents like the 2008 grenade attack that killed eight people celebrating independence day in Michoacan's capital Morelia.
Cartels have beheaded their enemies-- sending a clear signal that rang across the state.
Reporters are too fearful to report on drug killings and seven journalists have been killed since 2006.
Calderon insists there is no turning back, that violence shows gangs are becoming desperate and that he is winning.
"The criminal organizations have resorted to all kinds of cowardice because of their desperation due to the armed forces' blows to their organization, structure and financing," he said.
The military onslaught has been followed by massive troop deployments from Mexico's Caribbean to the U.S. border in a bid to replace corrupt police forces while they undergo reform.
As the bodies pile up -- more than 31,000 across Mexico since December 2006 -- 49 percent of Mexicans say Calderon's drug war is a failure, according to a poll issued last week, but Michoacan Public Security Secretary Manuel Garcia said he backed the federal response.
"From my personal point of view, I think federal authorities and the actions the president undertook are totally correct. I don't think this should be left to grow and that nobody does anything," he said.
Earlier this month, drug hitmen blocked roads with burning cars and set fire to a gas station after security forces arrested two local smugglers, effectively shutting down Morelia.
But the government has made substantial blows.
In December of 2009, Mexican security forces killed Arturo Beltran Leyva in a gun battle in Cuernavaca and in August of 2010 they captured his successor, American-born 'La Barbie.' The Beltran-Leyva cartel is one of a handful of drug organizations battling to control drug trafficking into the United States.
Marijuana has been a major cash crop since the 1950s in Michoacan, raised among the state's avocado and mango orchards. But the rise of methamphetamine production turbocharged both gang profits and the violent clashes over control of billions of dollars in proceeds made by satisfying U.S. demand.
Hotel Owners Association President, Beatriz Perez, said that the tide of violence was dealing a blow to any efforts to boost the country's economy through tourism.
"If we ourselves are insecure, how can we tell a foreigner, 'Come to visit our country,' if we ourselves are insecure?"
Across Mexico, the sight of heavily armed and masked federal police has become a feature of daily life - a sign of a battle that is growing increasingly bloody by the day, with a resolution more elusive than ever.
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