TOPICS > Politics

Discovery of Bodies in Mexico Linked to Drug War

August 25, 2010 at 7:27 PM EST
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Government authorities discovered the bodies of 72 people -- believed to be migrants from Central and South America -- dumped less than 100 miles from the U.S. border. Gwen Ifill gets more on the story.
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GWEN IFILL: There were new developments today in Mexico’s continuing drug war. Government authorities discovered the bodies of 72 people believed to be migrants from Central and South America dumped on less than a hundred — dumped less than a hundred miles from the U.S. border. If, as suspected, the migrants were victims in the continuing war between violent drug cartels, this would be the largest single casualty count since the government decided to take on the cartels in 2006.

For more on all that, we go to Ana Paula Ordorica, a journalist with FOROtv in Mexico City, and Eric Olson, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute.

Welcome to you both.

Ana Paula Ordorica, well, tell us a little bit about what you know about the latest of what was found on this farm in Mexico, these bodies.

ANA PAULA ORDORICA, FOROtv: Well, as you say, it was 72 bodies that were found in Tamaulipas. It’s a big body count, the biggest that we have seen since President Calderon started this fight. And it’s impressive. But the most impressive thing is how these victims have been invisible victims, these transmigrants have been invisible victims. And, suddenly, this might put them on the map.

These are people that have been continuously kidnapped. The National Human Rights Commission has a count. It’s a little bit politicized, and it is not an official count. But they say it’s been 9,000 kidnappings in the past six months. So, it is a huge number.

And these are invisible victims, because, since they come into Mexico with no papers, then, once they’re kidnapped, they don’t want to denounce what’s been happening. They just want to return back home, or they just want to go to the U.S., if they are able to do it. These 72 people, well, they are now more body counts in this fight against the drug cartels that the Mexican government has been fighting.

GWEN IFILL: Eric Olson, expand upon that. How does this tie to — the kidnappings, the murders, apparent kidnappings, apparent murders of these 72 and many others, how is it tied into the drug cartel violence?

ERIC OLSON, senior associate, Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute: Well, one of the phenomena that’s happened is that drug cartels and organized crime has taken control more and more of the smuggling and trafficking in humans.

The same routes they use to move drugs up and down the Mexican corridor, they can easily use to move people and — and traffic individuals. So, more and more, we see the business model of the drug traffickers expanding into other areas, not just trafficking of humans, but other forms of trafficking.

They use the same routes. They bribe the same officials. And they create these corridors that allow them to move people north and south.

GWEN IFILL: President Calderon, Eric Olson, declared war on these cartels in 2006. It’s been four years, by some accounts, 28,000 people dead. Is it working, his war?

ERIC OLSON: Yes, I think it’s very hard to say it is working. I’m not saying that he’s not trying hard, he’s not dedicated to defeating them, but, by all measures, it’s pretty difficult to say there’s success when we see violence continuing to grow.

And, more important than violence, the real power of these cartels is growing and expanding into new areas. And, so, this — it’s not a very successful experience thus far.

GWEN IFILL: Ms. Ordorica, we have also heard reports in recent days of the mayor of Santiago being assassinated by his own bodyguards. We have heard tales of people found being hung by bridges in resort towns. This seems to be spreading, rather than being contained.

ANA PAULA ORDORICA: Yes, and what the government has been saying is that this spreading of the violence is a signal of success. They compare it to what has been happening in Colombia, what happened in places in the United States like New York, for example, or Washington, when they fought against organized crime.

And what they’re saying is that it takes at least seven years of continuous and growing violence before you can see some success. Not everybody agrees. And many people think that the strategy is not working. Especially, it’s not only something that has to do with body counts. Today, we got the news about these 72 bodies. But, also, 13 local policemen from Tijuana were released because there wasn’t a due process when they got caught because they had nexus or links with organized crime.

So, I think police forces and having them become clean agents working for the government is the first thing the government has to work for.

GWEN IFILL: You cover this all the time. How insecure is this making people who either work, live, visit these regions at this point?

ANA PAULA ORDORICA: Well, I think now there are some regions where the thing is, I would say, a code red. You have Monterrey. You have places in Tamaulipas, but especially, I mean, the northern part where you can see that there is a fight, the fight that has been signaled to be between the Cartel Golfo, El Golfo, and Los Zetas.

And they’re using civil — civil — regular civil citizens to have this battle become more vigorous. So, this is ordinary citizens that are feeling this fight against organized crime, and they are really asking themselves, is this working, and how much longer until we see some good results?

GWEN IFILL: Eric Olson, how much is public corruption a part of this problem and how difficult does it make it for the government to do anything to curb this violence?

ERIC OLSON: I think it’s absolutely fundamental. All the polling suggests that people have very low confidence in their authorities. The latest surveys say, nationally, only 22 percent of crime is actually reported — 78 percent of people don’t report their crime. They don’t trust their authorities. And police officers around the world will tell you their job is immensely more difficult if they don’t have the trust of their citizens and the constituents.

So, I think, at some level, that’s really at the heart of this. People don’t trust the authorities. Organized crime has penetrated the police, the judiciary, every aspect of government. And that’s really got to be a part of the solution.

GWEN IFILL: So, is there any discussion being held about changing the terms of this drug war or changing the approach on the government’s part? I will ask you this. And I would like to ask Ms. Ordorica as well.

ERIC OLSON: Yes, President Calderon agreed to a series of public dialogues the last two weeks to discuss the strategy, to invite experts and citizens and — and international people to provide ideas, to think about how they can improve the strategy.

You know, it comes late in his administration. People would like to have seen that earlier. It’s hard to know if it will produce a change in strategy. He — he said for the first time during that discussion that he was at least open to a discussion about legalization. He personally has always said he doesn’t agree with legalization, but he was at least open to that discussion. So, there’s some discussion going on in the media, in the public, about what to do.

GWEN IFILL: Legalization, Ana Ordorica?

ANA PAULA ORDORICA: Yes, as Eric says, the president did open the discussion. He did so through Twitter. He wrote in his Twitter account that he was open to a discussion, although he himself was against legalization of drugs.

And this has opened a whole big discussion, where most of the citizens, most of the population is against legalization. But, still, the — the coin is up in the air, and especially so if we saw what’s going on in the U.S., where some states are talking about legalization or decriminalization, especially a place like California, which is our neighbor.

And, on some accounts, it would be impossible to ask soldiers and ask policemen to prosecute something that here is a crime and right next door is legal.

GWEN IFILL: All right.Ana Paula Ordorica and Eric Olson, thank you both very much.