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Mexico: Sharp fall in drug violence inspires new optimism

Along much of the 1,970-mile border between Mexico and the US, levels of violence that peaked in 2011 have fallen, and a national survey found optimism for Mexico's security situation is on the rise.

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Media groups still maintain unofficial counts of the dead.

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Grupo Reforma, a newspaper consortium, said that by its count, the pace of cartel-related murders this year has dropped 18 percent from last year. On Oct. 26, its tally stood at 8,326 murders. If the pace of killings does not change, this year will mark the first decline in annual totals since the tally began in 2006.

If Mexicans are sensing some success against crime groups, it may be a reflection of the spate of arrests and slayings of gangsters in the past two months.

Authorities have gone far in unraveling one of Mexico’s two major gangs, Los Zetas, and in removing the leadership of a once-powerful group, the Gulf Cartel.

On Oct. 7, a naval infantry unit gunned down Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, the dreaded leader of Los Zetas who carried the nickname “The Executioner.” In prior weeks, the navy rolled up two of Lazcano’s top lieutenants and several other key Zetas commanders.

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Calderon says his law enforcement efforts have led to either the arrest or death of 25 of the top 37 most-wanted crime figures identified when he came to office.

While something as intangible as the public’s perception of the nation’s security is difficult to measure, surveyors from the National Institute of Statistics have been asking Mexicans for their views in recent years.

The questions include: How do you see your personal security as compared to a year ago? How do you see it next year? How about the security in the nation as a whole compared to a year ago? And what’s your level of confidence in walking alone near your home between 4 and 7 p.m.?

October’s public security index hit 104.4, the fourth straight month in which people voiced greater optimism than the baseline month of April 2009, before violence really spiraled upward in Mexico. The lowest month, according to the index, was November 2010, when the index stood at 92.

The heartened mood plays into the hands of President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, who easily won the July 1 vote on the back of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ruled Mexico as a one-party state for most of the 20th century.

Mr. Pena Nieto has pledged no radical difference in security policies for the nation other than a greater focus on reducing levels of violence.

He has pledged to halve the homicide rate in his first year in office, reducing it to 12 homicides per 100,000 residents. He’s also vowed to cut kidnappings in half, setting a goal of 1,668 abductions in the same period.

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