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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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Though Mexicans complain of escalating violence and are expected to vote the National Action Party out of power over the issue in 2012 presidential elections, the population still widely supports that party's strategy in using the military to fight the drug war. A Pew survey showed 83 percent continuing that effort. And despite Mr. Sicilia's protests, nationally there has been no widespread backlash.

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Calderón's strategy has been multipronged. He has pushed through judicial reform, with states in the process of transforming closed-door judgments into oral trials in part to reduce impunity that stands at about 98 percent. He has sought to re-create a trustworthy police apparatus by unifying commands. (Census surveys show state police have no credibility with a majority of the population; and entire police units in some municipalities have been disbanded for collaborating with traffickers.)

But many critics say he has focused too much attention on the military and not enough on these underlying structural and institutional problems.

Buscaglia says that corruption has infiltrated 71 percent of the nation's municipalities, and that the judicial system and police apparatus are widely co-opted. He says Mexico has also failed to seize illegitimate revenue from companies or go after the political class.

By just throwing more soldiers and police at the drug trafficking problem, without rooting out corruption, he says, it is simply creating a greater pool of people to be co-opted by traffickers "and it increases the violence."

Calderón launched this strategy without fully realizing what he was up against, suggests Eduardo Valle, a former high-level adviser to the federal attorney general. "They did not have a proper diagnostic of the problem," he says. "[Organized crime] has been penetrating the government and state for years, and now we are at the explosion point."

But, Mr. Valle says, the only way ahead is forward. "The federal government had to confront this," he says. "And there is no way back."

The tipping point for Veracruz came in September – a month that business association chief Martin calls "the worst since Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico."

In the middle of afternoon rush hour, a van-load of 35 bodies was dumped on a highway underpass in full view of customers at a high-end shopping mall and cinema complex as well as passing commuters. Carolina was one who happened to drive right past on the way to her tutoring job.

And 14 more bodies were found days later as top state and federal prosecutors gathered in the city for a convention. Amid the chaos, a group emerged on YouTube to take credit for the killings. They call themselves the "Zetas Killers," and suddenly Veracruz was faced with the prospect of a paramilitary force operating in the state. "We are anonymous warriors, without faces, proudly Mexican," a man says on YouTube.

Tired of violence, some locals quietly support the Zetas Killers. Sergio gives them a "thumbs up."

But the state has quickly professed no tolerance. "The state will apply the laws that govern, not [support] any groups that want a parallel state," says Ms. Dominguez at the governor's office.

The Mexican Navy, which coordinates the drug fight in the state of Veracruz, has dismissed them as a rival drug group posing as vigilantes. Similar groups have emerged in other parts of the country claiming to be protectors of the people, but they've also been dismissed by the government as drug traffickers playing on the fears of the population.

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