Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Violence rises amid drug crackdown

Mexico is now the most dangerous country in the world except for "certain regions on the African continent". How unfortunate, particularly for those in the USA living on the border.

Violence rises amid drug crackdown
By Jay Root

MEXICO CITY --Mexican President Felipe Calder—n's tough new war on drug trafficking, which has sent thousands of Mexican Army troops into the countryside and a record number of drug suspects to the United States for trial, failed to quell violence in the first half of the year.

Federal crimes such as gangland-style murders and kidnappings have reached record levels, according to a new report from Mexico's Congress, making Mexico one of the world's most dangerous countries.

One analyst who worked on the report said Mexico's murder rate now tops all others in the Western Hemisphere.

"In a global context, we suffer from more homicides, that is to say, violent deaths, than any other region in the world except for certain regions on the African continent," said Eduardo Rojas, who helped put together the crime report at the Center for Social and Public Opinion Studies, a research arm of the Mexico's Chamber of Deputies.

The report, made public last week, said that major federal crimes, which include homicides, kidnappings and arms trafficking, rose 25 percent in the first half of 2007 over the same period last year. In 2006, the same crimes had risen 22 percent over the previous year.

Gangland style executions have risen 155 percent since 2001, according to the congressional report.

Crime has been on the rise in Mexico throughout the last decade as drug cartels battle for control of lucrative smuggling routes. But the new findings come at a politically charged time for the Calder—n administration, which is also confronting a new threat from an old foe -- the shadowy Popular Revolutionary Army or EPR, its Spanish acronym.

EPR's coordinated bombings of natural gas pipelines, first in July and then in September, have exposed government intelligence failures and the vulnerability of the petroleum infrastructure in Mexico, the second largest oil exporter to the United States.

"The reality is the government has been pursuing the top EPR leaders for at least five years, and they haven't been able to catch them," said Mexican political commentator Raymundo Riva Palacio.

Experts think the EPR, a Marxist group that traces its origins to the armed guerrilla movements of the 1970s, finances its activities with ransom from kidnapped businessmen. The guerrillas say the attacks will continue until authorities release two comrades who disappeared in Oaxaca in May; state and federal officials say they're not in government custody.

The group's reach appears to be countrywide. The first blasts struck multiple locations in central Mexico. The second set hit coastal Veracruz. On Wednesday, security was beefed up around pipelines in northern Chihuahua state after EPR graffiti was discovered on installations there.

Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora recently told reporters that the guerrilla bombings "distract" authorities from their battle against organized crime.

Mexico's violence is often spectacular and lurid, with tales of street shootouts, decapitations and bomb blasts often filling Mexico's news pages and airwaves. No place is immune, including the buildings of the country's news outlets.

In May a severed head wrapped in newspaper was left in a cooler outside the office of Tabasco Hoy in Villahermosa, where drug violence is on the rise. Grenades have been tossed into newsrooms from Cancœn to Nuevo Laredo in the past 18 months. The Paris-based organization Reporters Without Borders reported that Mexico was the most dangerous country for journalists in 2006, after Iraq.

Violence rises amid drug crackdown


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