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Mexico drug war casualty: Citizenry suffers post-traumatic stress

Outwardly, life seems normal; but as drug war kidnappings, extortion, and violence brush closer to the average citizen, experts say, the mental terrain looks like post-traumatic stress.

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Whether the rumors are true or not, Carolina's school requires that the staff no longer wear clothes bearing the logo, and they've been told to take all references to place of employment off Facebook pages. The school also hired a specialist from Monterrey to give security training: If a bullet comes through a window, it comes in at an angle, so teachers should herd their students behind an imaginary line in each classroom; and counterintuitive as it may seem, if there is a shootout, children should stand and walk briskly away, not crawl on the ground, because crawling makes a slower-moving target.

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Carolina refused to drive to school alone in the days following the social media scare. It's not practical for her husband to drop her off, so she came up with a palliative measure for her fear: She leaves her school ID at home and keeps two stacks of fliers for a water company in her back seat so that, if stopped, she can claim she works for a water company, not a school.

When winning is losing

There is definitely a growing public weariness that is affecting Calderón politically. The largest national movement was started this year by poet Javier Sicilia, whose son was murdered along with friends in Cuernavaca, outside Mexico City. Less than half of Mexicans believe the government is making progress against organized crime, and 29 percent believe it is actually losing ground, according to a September poll by the Pew Research Center. Indeed, many believe criminal elements have the upper hand: When Mexico's interior minister was killed in a plane crash in November the government immediately had to go on the defensive to persuade citizens it was not because of foul play.

Political foes call for the complete withdrawal of troops from the streets. Former President Vicente Fox, of Calderón's party, polemically called for the government to consider a truce with drug traffickers. Perhaps most worrisome to Calderón is the political speculation that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which held power for 71 years, is poised to retake the presidency in 2012, in part because Mexicans are looking for change in their violent nation.

Drug trafficking existed under the PRI, which is widely accused of cooperating with criminals instead of prosecuting them. "Organized crime used to be managed by a very strong authoritarian state," says Mr. Buscaglia, the ITAM organized crime expert. With the transition to democracy, they were left without a rule book. "They went from being managed to being the manager."

That has corrupted Mexican institutions more than those of other countries with organized crime problems, says Buscaglia, who does comparative research on the issue from Italy, Colombia, Afghanistan, and Russia, among others. "They compete to capture little pieces of the state, like piranhas," he says. "In Italy, during the worst years of the mafia, they had judges investigating organized crime and investigating politicians.... It makes a huge difference; the amount of state capture is limited."

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