México’s violence appears to be spreading south

Much of Mexico is now under the grip of drug-related violence that has claimed 30,000 lives since president Felipe Calderón declared war on organized criminal gangs in December, 2006. While polls show support for the president’s policy, they also show that a large percentage of people believe the government is losing the war.

While crime is a big concern in Mexico City, people feel far removed from what is happening along the northern border or in other violence-plagued areas.

News media report almost daily about ghastly mass murders, beheadings and large-scale gun battles in other parts of the country. But for many people in the capital, it seems far away.

But some parts of central and southern Mexico are starting to witness brutal murders and shootouts on a regular basis, and security analyst Ana Maria Salazar says no part of the country is totally safe.

“People sometimes think I exaggerate when I talk about Mexico being at war, but there are certain parts of the country which clearly have war-like conditions,” said Ms. Salazar.

While some Mexicans criticize president Calderon’s war on drug traffickers for causing an increase in violence, Ms. Salazar says the Mexican leader had to act.

“When you consider how dangerous these organizations are and how well armed they are and how well organized they are, the Mexican government really did not have many other options,” she said.

One border area where the president’s strategy is showing some results is the city of Tijuana, just over the border from San Diego, California.

The violence has subsided there as police have regained control. Crime is still a problem there, but it is far less a problem than it is in cities like Ciudad Juárez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.

Tijuana resident Gerardo Mora credits cooperation between various levels of government and police. “For us, what really worked is that municipal police, state police, federal agents, the governor, they got together and worked as a group,” said Mora.

But Mora says citizens also need to do their part, by reporting criminal activity to the police. Widespread official corruption has discouraged many Mexicans from trusting the police and efforts to root out corruption and reduce violent crime have made slow progress.

Still, Ana Maria Salazar says people need to be patient.

“Any impact, in terms of reducing the violence in this country, from these reforms, is going to take years,” she said.

With less than two years left in his term, though, President Calderón may be running out of time, and Ana Maria Salazar says his success may ultimately depend on the level of support he gets from north of the border.

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