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Mexico: Iraq Is Safer
   Next Article → ARTILLERY: To See You, Is To Kill You

December 15, 2008: This month, about 26 people a day are dying from criminal and terrorist violence a day in Iraq. That's a bit lower than the death toll in northern Mexico, which on a bad day (like last November 3rd) saw 58 people killed. The police are generally helpless, hundreds of thousands of middle-class Mexicans have fled the border region, often to the United States (if they had dual-citizenship, which many do). Those without money must hunker down and wait for someone to win this war. The drug gangs show no signs of weakening, although the army believes that it can prevail in the next year or so.

December 14, 2008: So how is the Cartel War going, two years on? President Felipe Calderon -- the man in the cauldron-- sees progress. In a recent speech Calderon addressed what he saw as the deep challenge in Mexico -- corruption. "Instead of faltering," Calderon said, "we have taken on the challenge of turning Mexico into a country of laws." Corruption in the police and judiciary provides the "dirty space" for all types of crime, but the drug cartels essentially began carving out "drug duchies," which is one reason Calderon decided to use the Mexican military. Calderon saw a situation similar to that in Colombia, where at one time the rebel FARC organization openly claimed territory. FARC started out with political aims and still claims political aims, but the people of Colombia came to know it as a criminal gang in the narcotics and kidnapping business. Mexico's drug cartels skipped the political stage though they love buying politicians.

Calderon sees his war as a war for modernity, for systemic change. This is why he also speaks of economic transformation (eg, opening the oil business to foreign investment) and "structural reforms" (something of an all encompassing code word for reforming the police, the judiciary, and politics). His own words drive the point home:"Nowadays we are experiencing the consequences of years of indifference to the cancer of crime, impunity and corruption. This scourge became a threat to the peace and well-being of Mexican families and constitutes a challenges to the state's viability."

Calderon's government says that it seeks change in five major areas. It calls them, (1) Rule of Law and Security, (2) a Competitive Economy that will Create Jobs, (3) Equal Opportunities, (4) Environmental Sustainability, and (5) Effective Democracy and Responsible Foreign Policy.

December 10, 2008: The government wants foreign investors to help reverse Mexico's decline in oil production. The government hopes foreign oil companies will be interested in exploring the Chicontepec basin in eastern Mexico. The government currently estimates the basin has at least 12 billion barrels in it, but could hold tens of billions more. The problem is that the geology is complex and recovery requires "advanced technologies." Mexico has budgeted money (up to $30 billion) to develop the field, but that may not be enough. The government pointed to Chicontepec as an immediate example of the need to modernize energy investment laws in order to attract capital. It was one reason some legislators decided to support Calderon's energy investment reforms. Mexico produces around 2.75 million barrels a day, but its older fields are producing a lot less oil today than they were even four or five years ago.

December 5, 2008: According to the US Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the city of Houston, Texas is the "top source" for illegal firearms entering Mexico. The Gulf Cartel is particularly "connected" in Houston and according to the BATF has at least "three cells" in the Houston area.

December 2, 2008: Authorities found nine headless bodies in Tijuana (Baja California). The victims were likely part of a gang war going on in the city. Mexican police said approximately 350 people have been killed in drug gang-related violence in and around Tijuana during he last two months.

December 1, 2008: Mexican media reported that November 2008 was the deadliest month in Mexico's now two-year old Cartel War. Over 700 people (one source reported 701 to be precise) were killed in November. 669 were killed in October 2008. That brings the death toll for 2008 to somewhere between 4900 and 5100 murders. One source reported 4961, another 5024. Still, the Mexican government can point to some progress in reducing kidnappings since launching an anti-kidnapping initiative as part of its August 2008 national security accord. The government reported that kidnappings since September have averaged 72 a month. This is down from an average of 90 a month (January through August 2008). But remember several things about all of these numbers -- they rely on reported and investigated crimes. That said, the 2008 death toll is another indicator that Mexico is a country at war.

Next Article → ARTILLERY: To See You, Is To Kill You