Drug violence surges in Mexico

President Felipe Calderón's decision to confront organized crime has spurred drug cartels to fight back.

Relatives of missing persons in Mexico pressed officials for help in finding their loved ones' remains after a man last week admitted to helping a drug gang dispose of more than 300 bodies using corrosive chemicals.

The macabre admission is just the latest indication of the depth of Mexico's drug violence. Some US observers say the cartels now pose a direct threat to the Mexican government's survival, and, by extension, a growing security threat to the US. But Mexican officials and analysts say such views are overly alarmist.

Reuters reported that more than 5,700 people were killed in drug violence last year in Mexico, "nearly double the number of 2007."

The wire service reported that dozens of families had approached officials for help in finding their relatives after the arrest of Santiago Meza Lopez last week.

The Mexican newspaper Prensa reported details of the case. Mr. Lopez, alias "El Pozolero [the stew maker]," said he was paid $600 per month to help the Arellano Pelix drug cartel dispose of bodies (link to article in Spanish).

The New York Times explained that "pozole" is a "popular Mexican stew that can feature pork, hominy and an array of vegetables and seasonings." The newspaper reported that police paraded Meza before reporters on Friday on the outskirts of Tijuana, and that Meza publicly asked for forgiveness from the families of the victims.

The Wall Street Journal wrote in an opinion piece that the "body count" in drug-related violence in Mexico so far this year is already 354. It noted that a police commander was recently beheaded in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, an "increasingly popular tactic."

The paper traced the recent surge in drug-related violence to the Mexican president's bid to confront gangsters.

The paper reported that the US Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia, "warned recently that an unstable Mexico 'could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States.'"

The Los Angeles Times added that the report said Mexico should be "monitored alongside Pakistan as a 'weak and failing' state that could crumble swiftly under relentless assault by violent drug cartels."

The newspaper said that the US Joint Forces Command report was only one of several alarms being sounded on the security situation south of the border.

But the newspaper noted that Mexican officials and some analysts dispute such alarmism. "'It's a very bad analysis,' said Raul Benitez, an expert on security and US-Mexico relations at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. 'Mexico has some failed institutions inside the government, but not the whole state.'"

In a letter to the El Paso Times published Sunday, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, rejected the notion that Mexico might be on the verge of collapse, saying that was "plainly preposterous."

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