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September 7, 2006

drugs, violence and corruption

This article in today's Houston Chronicle should shed some light on the immigration issue for those scratching their heads and wondering why on earth folks from Mexico don't just "stay home".

By MARION LLOYD Houston Chronicle Foreign Service

MEXICO CITY Masked gunmen burst into a nightclub early Wednesday and flung five human heads onto the dance floor in what was easily one of the most shocking incidents of drug violence in Mexico this year.


The gruesome episode brought to at least 13 the number of people decapitated so far this year in Michoacan, a normally tranquil state that has been drawn into a horrific, increasingly violent turf war between rival cartels.

Nationwide, drug violence this year has claimed a record 1,500 lives, including more than 300 in Michoacan, known for lush pine forests and the charming colonial cities of Morelia and Patzcuaro.

Federal authorities are alarmed.

''Mexico is witnessing extreme violence like we've never seen before," said Santiago Vasconcelos, the country's drug czar.


That is little comfort to residents. Even many of the police in Michoacan 13 have been killed this year alone are terrified.

''Any sane person would be scared," said Marco Antonio Gonzalez, mayor of the cattle town of Tepalcatepec, where four severed heads were recently found hanging on a roadside cross.

Interviewed at the town hall, he admitted he was considering fleeing with his wife and newborn baby. But, he added, "Where would we go?"


It's not just the frequency of the violence that frightens Mexicans. It's the brutality.

Traffickers' increasingly gruesome methods include: blowing their victims up with grenades, cutting them to pieces or chopping off their heads.

Gang members are also more brazen in choosing their targets. On Aug. 17, suspected hit men gunned down a federal judge. Judges, who are rarely attacked, are now demanding police protection.

Mexican officials say the violence is the result of their own success in beheading the nation's drug cartels.

''Their heads have been deactivated and put in a jar," Vasconcelos said in an interview.

In response, he says, traffickers are waging an internecine war for control of the drug routes and Mexico's increasingly lucrative domestic market.

''The criminal organizations have no way of reacting other than with violence," he said. ''And violence begets violence."


But for now, Michoacan must cope with the violence. With just 4 million residents, the state now ranks third in the number of victims behind Baja California and Tamaulipas, which borders Texas.

''Michoacan is looking like Medellin and Cali in the worst of times," said writer Homero Aridjis, a native of the state.


Narcotics officials point to Michoacan's strategic importance as a transshipment point for South American cocaine. After landing on the Pacific coast, the drugs are often trucked to Apatzingan, a bustling agricultural town two hours inland, then they are flown to points north from nearby Guadalajara. And the traffic is expected to grow with plans to convert the state's main coastal city, Lazaro Cardenas, into a major container port.

But there's another critical factor fueling the violence: Michoacan is the country's leading producer of crystal methamphetamines, or ice, which has been rising in popularity in the U.S.


The surrounding fertile region also has a long history of producing marijuana and poppies for making heroin, along with cotton, lemons and papayas.

These days, however, some locals are shunning agriculture in favor of the more profitable synthetic drug trade, Mexican officials say.

And signs of their prosperity are easy to spot. Some locals snap up Hummers at a dealership that recently opened outside Apatzingan. Others cruise through the town in gleaming pickups with tinted windows.

Some police officers can't help but join the action.

In August, 24 municipal police officers from Apatzingan were indicted on charges of conspiring with the powerful Gulf cartel, whose bloody rivalry with the Sinaloa cartel is blamed for much of the violence nationwide. The traffickers have also corrupted state and federal police, narcotics officials say.

''The only way to stop the violence in Michoacan would be to replace the entire police force at all levels," said a state intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. ''You can't imagine what a huge problem we have here." full article

Posted by almamia at September 7, 2006 9:15 AM


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