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Mexico drug war worsened by organized crime's tight grip on politics

The Mexican government and police efforts in the Mexican drug war are often undermined by the control that organized crime has on the political system.

By Staff writer / November 5, 2010

People gathered around a peace dove outline made with candles at the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon in Monterrey, Mexico, last month. They were protesting the death of a university student who was hit by stray gunfire at a busy shopping plaza during what was probably a drug-related assassination.

Edgar Montelongo/Reuters

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Mexico City

The unrelenting drug violence here has cast a pall over Mexico, with the brutality turning many numb to its menace. In one week alone in late October, three mass killings took place, including a massacre of 14 at a birthday party in Ciudad Juárez, a shooting spree inside a Tijuana drug rehab center that killed 13, and an attack in a carwash in Nayarit that took 15 lives.

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Mexican President Felipe Calderón has made the restoration of security the centerpiece of his presidency. That has meant 50,000 troops and federal officials dispatched to take on drug criminals, but violence continues unabated, with more than 28,000 killed in drug-related violence since he took office in December 2006.

The causes of the mayhem are manifold. But many experts, law enforcement officials, and ordinary Mexicans say that profound change cannot be accomplished until the government begins loosening organized crime's grip on officials and institutions at all levels.

"Organized crime has not just penetrated police bodies but [also] government spaces at all levels.… It is one of the biggest problems complicating the fight against drug trafficking," says Alberto Aziz Nassif, a specialist in democracy and civil society at the Center for Research and Higher Education in Social Anthropology in Mexico City. "There are no clear boundaries. The boundaries have been erased by corruption and impunity."

In the past few weeks, Mexico has been captivated by an ongoing political drama that symbolizes the challenges the government faces in rooting out corruption.

In 2009, then-Congressman-elect Julio César Godoy Toscano went missing for 15 months after the federal attorney general's office charged him with having connections to La Familia, one of Mexico's most feared drug-running gangs.

Mr. Godoy, who is from the violent state of Michoacán and is the governor's half-brother, eventually showed up at Mexico's Congress of the Union in Mexico City in September. Armed with a court injunction that said he could take office provided he was not arrested first, he managed to elude police outside Congress and get sworn in – thereby receiving immunity for the duration of his three-year term.

A deepening drama

If the story ended there, it would be political drama enough. But days later, a top drug trafficker from La Familia was heard on a leaked audiotape pledging support for a man alleged to be Godoy. And now the political class is scrambling to determine whether enough evidence exists to remove Godoy's immunity, or fuero.

But whether Godoy turns out to be innocent or guilty, the events surrounding his arrest raise many troubling questions about how deeply entrenched drug gangs are within Mexico's political establishment.

Many experts say President Calderón's drug war is failing because organized crime has co-opted the political system, either by victimizing candidates and politicians – killing them, in many instances – or by paying them off.

Calderón has said no public official will be spared, but several factors complicate the government's ability to capture those suspected of moonlighting for criminal networks, including a lack of investigative expertise, a distrust of government motivations, and lack of political will.

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