Cartels lash out at Mexican crackdown on drug trafficking

Attacks on public officials, law enforcement, and the military escalate as President Calderón promises an 'unprecedented battle.'

A series of brazen attacks in Mexico attributed to powerful drug cartels – targeting public officials, police, and even the military – has put the nation on edge, stirring debate about the nation's strategy to combat trafficking, and possibly spurring deeper US involvement in combating Mexico's increasingly violent traffickers.

The Associated Press reports a string of recent attacks points to cartels' anger over President Felipe Calderón's recent initiatives to combat the illegal drug trade. Since Mr. Calderón declared war on traffickers by dispatching more than 24,000 soldiers and police to the state of Michoacan in December, drug-related violence has escalated, with events of the past week raising alarm throughout the nation.

The daily bloodshed includes an ambush that killed five soldiers this month, a severed head left with a defiant note outside a military barracks on Saturday and the slaying Monday of a top federal intelligence official who was shot in the face in his car outside his office in Mexico City.
Mexicans were particularly shocked last week by televised images of kindergartners fleeing their school during a grenade-and-gun battle between traffickers and soldiers that lasted for nearly two hours in [the town of Apatzingan] in President Felipe Calderon's home state of Michoacan.

Drug trafficking organizations are widely assumed responsible for Monday’s assassination in Mexico City of José Nemesio Lugo Félix, a top intelligence official for the attorney general's office. According to The Dallas Morning News, Mr. Lugo Félix worked with the National Center for Planning and Analysis to Combat Organized Crime, which combats drug trafficking, for just one month before being gunned down in the streets of the capital.

The Los Angeles Times writes that lawmakers from two major political parties proposed Tuesday that the military be called on to defend the capital from drug traffickers, with some observers questioning Calderón's preparedness for the cartels' retaliation against his anti-drug trade measures.

President Felipe Calderón promised an "unprecedented battle" against the traffickers, who have killed as many as 1,000 people as they fight each other and Mexican authorities over control in a lucrative trade in cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin and other illicit drugs. Most of the drugs are shipped to the United States.
The shooting in the political, cultural, and media capital of Mexico raised troubling questions about Calderón's declared war on traffickers, which has included troop deployments to several states and cities where violence has since spiraled. Newspaper editorials yesterday accused the president of being unprepared for the backlash.

Reuters reports that the note left in the beheading incident at a Mexican army barracks near the port city of Veracruz warned troops "not to mess with the drug cartels, to expect a fierce battle."

Mexican President Felipe Calderon sent hundreds of soldiers and federal police to Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico on Friday night after gunmen on Thursday killed four Mexican policemen who worked as bodyguards for the family of a senior politician.
Authorities suspect the powerful Gulf cartel or a rival breakaway gang, "Gente Nueva" (New People), were behind the beheading and its message.

The inability of Mexican officials to stem the latest tide of violence comes in the wake of last week's announcement that the Mexican and US governments have entered into discussions about possible increased US assistance in fighting Mexico's drug trade. According to The Dallas Morning News, plans reportedly seek to improve the nation's telecommunications and airspace surveillance, as well as create a more effective Mexican police force. Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said last week that current US aid does not correspond with the enormous international scope of the problem.

Drug trafficking groups, he said, are transnational organizations with distribution routes and consumer markets beyond Mexico. "There's a greater realization that this is a shared responsibility," he said.
Some officials involved in the discussions referred to the effort as Plan Mexico, an apparent reference to the multibillion-dollar U.S. assistance program known as Plan Colombia, which is designed to fight cocaine producers and their rebel allies in that South American nation. But U.S. and Mexican officials, including Mr. Medina Mora, denied that the amount of assistance for Mexico would be on the scale of Plan Colombia.

In another development, according to the AP, Patricio Patino, assistant secretary of Public Safety, called Tuesday for the US to crack down on the smuggling of weapons across the border into Mexico, where fall into the hands of increasingly violent traffickers.

"The firepower we are seeing here has to do with a lack of control on that side of the border," Patino said in an interview with The Associated Press. "What we have asked the American government ... is that they put clear controls on the shipments of weapons."
Illustrating that point, Patino said that early Tuesday, federal agents arrested two suspected drug gunmen carrying assault rifles and half a dozen hand grenades in the western city of Morelia, apparently as they were on their way to carry out a hit.
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