Violence tops results of Mexico's 5-yr drug war

By Katherine Corcoran

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Dec. 10 2011 7:55 a.m. MST

Former Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora would not say if corruption was a factor when asked by The Associated Press why states are so resistant to the cleanup. He only said the process was slow, "but going in the right direction," and called on citizens to hold their local authorities accountable for making the proper changes.

Blake Mora died in a helicopter crash last month. The new secretary of the interior, Alejandro Poire, was unavailable for comment.

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Long a grower and supplier of marijuana and opium poppies, Mexico has waged a drug war since at least 1948, when the government sent troops under the "Great Campaign" to destroy illegal crops.

Under Calderon's term, spending on security among the army, navy, federal police and attorney general's office has nearly doubled since 2007, totaling more than $46 billion (600 billion pesos) through next year. The $900 million spent so far by the U.S. under the Merida Initiative is but a small fraction.

About 45,000 troops have been deployed, plus several thousand more from the navy infantry, or marines. More than 45,000 people have been killed by several counts, though the government stopped giving figures on drug war dead when they hit nearly 35,000 a year ago.

With each military and federal police crackdown, the violence moves to a new location. The breaking up of cartels and disruption in the balance of power has led to the growth of two major cartels, Sinaloa and the Zetas.

The Calderon government has made major hits on several cartels, most notably La Familia in Michoacan, the Beltran Leyva gang in central and southern Mexico and La Linea in Ciudad Juarez. It also has weakened the Gulf Cartel, which created the Zetas as its enforcement arm.

Veracruz is bearing the brunt of both: When the government cracked down on violence-plagued Tamaulipas, the state north of Veracruz that borders the U.S., the bloodshed moved to Veracruz.

The Zetas and Sinaloa now battle for the state.

The Zetas have arguably been the biggest beneficiaries of Calderon's assault on other cartels, metastasizing in little more than two years into one of Mexico's top criminal organizations. When the Zetas sought to expand into territory traditionally controlled by the powerful Sinaloa Cartel in the west, a splinter group aligned with Sinaloa called the New Generation arrived to terrorize the Zetas.

The 35 bodies dumped Sept. 20 were left with a warning note from the New Generation, a cartel aligned with Sinaloa, that it intended to rid Veracruz of the Zetas. Since then dozens more bodies have been found, including seven last week.

Now that marines heavily patrol Veracruz, authorities already see the conflict moving to Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city, home turf of the New Generation. Until now, it has been known for mariachis, tequila and colonial cobblestone streets.

Twenty-six bodies were left in three abandoned trucks there late last month in what many consider revenge for the 35 in Veracruz. The victims included a truck driver, a soft-drink vendor and a dental technician.

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It is unclear what will happen to Mexico's drug war when Calderon leaves office a year from now. All the presumed candidates planning to run for president in 2012 promised to stop the violence and put the military back in its barracks. But to get there, none has proposed anything much different from what Calderon is already doing.

People try to carry on the everyday life of Veracruz, including the "Papaquis," street celebrations and competitions leading up to Carnival in February, one of Mexico's biggest fiestas. On a recent school day, a dozen girls in purple leotards twirled batons and danced to Reggaeton alongside a truck decorated with balloons. A young beauty queen waved to the crowd.

But life is not the same.

The marine raids have gotten out of control, said Ezequiel Guzman, president of the Mexican Hotel and Motel Association in Veracruz and Boca del Rio.

"Sometimes they violate human rights. In the past 20 days, they've entered eight hotels looking for people, making unreasonable searches," he said. "They scare the guests — honest people."

A marine official in Veracruz, who couldn't be identified for security reasons, says his troops operate within the law.

The families of the victims don't want to talk about the body dumping. Not one person who came to retrieve their loved ones wanted to make a criminal complaint, said Gina Dominguez, spokeswoman for Gov. Javier Duarte.

Brighitte's mother had a small funeral for her transgender child, who was born Ivan Cuesta Sanchez and left high school to transform herself into a local star. She advertised on Facebook, made enough to drive a nice car and charged for media interviews — one of which got more than 100,000 views on YouTube.

Her mother is as much afraid and confused as grief-stricken.

"I don't want to give anymore information because of the way things are," she said from her apartment in a rough area of Veracruz as dozens of taxis drove by, lookouts for the drug dealers. "I don't want anything to happen to my family, my kids, my mother."

She has heard that the marines have Brighitte's Mini Cooper. But she doesn't intend to ask.

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Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo, Olga R. Rodriguez and Michael Weissenstein contributed to this report from Mexico City, and Mark Stevenson from Michoacan.

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