New Spike in Violence Punctuates Mexico’s Drug War

BY Larisa Epatko  October 5, 2010 at 3:50 PM EST


Mexican police at a crime scene in Ciudad Juarez. Photo by Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

Clashes between rival gangs in Mexico left 34 people dead over the weekend, and the beating death of a mayor is the fifth killing of a city leader in six weeks, the latest fallout from the country’s deadly drug war.

Much of the violence occurred in northern Mexico along the U.S. border, where drug gangs are engaged in turf battles. Here are some of the latest grim numbers:

  • Fourteen people died in San Jose de la Cruz in the northern state of Durango over the weekend in what appeared to be fighting between the local Sinaloa cartel and rival drug gangs.
  • Another 20 people were killed in the same timeframe in Chihuahua state near the Texas border, where the Juarez cartel is active.

At least 11 mayors have been killed this year across Mexico, the Washington Post reports, in “communities where rival mafias fight for control of local drug sales, marijuana and poppy fields, methamphetamine labs and billion-dollar smuggling routes to the United States.” The latest was Monday’s discovery of Tancitaro Mayor Gustavo Sanchez found beaten to death.

  • More than 29,000 people have died in drug-related violence since late 2006 when Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office and launched a military crackdown on drug gangs, according to Reuters, which keeps a weekly tally of incidents.

Some criminal activity appears to be motivated by a general lawlessness in certain areas of Mexico, such as kidnappings for ransoms.

At least one town took matters into its own hands when its residents felt authorities weren’t doing enough to protect them and prosecute suspects, according to a report by Jose Luis Sierra, an editor for New America Media.

He writes about the kidnapping of a 17-year-old waitress at the end of September in Ascension, Mexico. Three of the five perpetrators were nabbed by police and brought to Ciudad Juarez for trial. The other two were beaten to death by an angry mob. Sierra writes:

“For the bands of kidnappers operating in this part of Mexico, it’s an almost routine operation: pick a victim, point guns at whoever happens to be nearby, and force the target to board a waiting vehicle, usually a stolen one. Speed away and call the family to ask for ransom.

… According to the accounts of Ascension residents, the kidnappers who snatched a teenage girl two weeks ago were not narcos, and after this particular job, they didn’t get very far.”

Reaction seems to be mixed on whether President Calderon’s tactics are working. Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, said some consider it a failure while others believe the number of deaths shows progress.

“I don’t think we really know,” he continued. There’s a show of force, but there doesn’t appear to be a clear sense of what needs to get done and what a victory would look like, or even benchmarks for making gains, Hakim said.

Some say the war needs to be stopped, he added, while others say since the Pandora’s Box is open, the government must continue to see it through to the end.