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Drug Killings, Violence Cast Shadow Over Mexican Elections

As drug gang violence continues to grip Mexico, Ray Suarez talks with a Los Angeles Times reporter about what has fueling the violence and how it will impact the upcoming state and local elections.

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    For more on the worsening violence, we turn to Tracy Wilkinson, the Mexico City bureau chief for The Los Angeles Times.

    And, Tracy, the headlines are shocking: 21 dead in a gun battle, 19 at a drug rehab center, 13 killed at a party. Three-and-a-half years into the militarization of the war against the drug gangs, is the state of the violence rising, the tide of violence rising still?

    TRACY WILKINSON, Mexico City bureau chief, The Los Angeles Times: Yes, in fact, as you mentioned, more than 23,000 people killed since December of 2006.

    We're still tallying up June, but it's going to be one of the deadliest months yet. So, indeed, the violence continues. The number of dead continues to rise. Right now, part of that is related to the elections, but really quite apart from that, we have just enormous numbers of people being killed, in part because the government forces are going after the cartels, but also because they're fighting among themselves for control of routes, territory, power.

    And so, increasingly, I mean, there doesn't seem to be an end in sight to this kind of violence, and it continues to increase.


    Along with the rising numbers, has there also been a change in the type of killings? They seem to be more gruesome, more meant to send a message.


    Well, certainly, yes, in the last couple of years, we have seen, not just killing — because people have been killed in Mexico forever. What we are seeing in the last couple of years is a much more gruesome kind of killing, beheadings, dismembering, hanging corpses up on highway overpasses, all of that, with messages left by the cartels, all of that to send a message, either to the law enforcement authorities, who would go after them, or to their rivals or to the local government.

    So — so, yes, it's much more — much more gruesome, but also with a very specific, some would say terroristic, message in — as part of it.


    Well, as these deaths splashed across the front page of newspapers and on the evening news, what do Mexicans make of the Calderon strategy to go after these drug gangs? Do they still support it?


    Well, many Mexicans still agree that something had to be done, that the drug traffickers were gaining too much power. They were beginning to, and have, in fact, infiltrated, penetrated political power. And that is something that a lot of Mexicans agree shouldn't be allowed.

    But I think, increasingly — and we're starting to see the polls shift to the point where, because the level of violence is so high, and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight, I think Calderon is losing a certain amount of support for his efforts.

    And so we're starting to see some Mexicans even talking about, well, maybe it would be better just to make a deal with some of the cartels, which is a very disturbing phenomenon. But people are very frustrated. They're very angry and just uncertain what do you do about this.

    And Calderon's policy, which has been basically a militaristic policy, only recently starting to look at some of the social issues, has just not been enough. It's not been the right tack to take completely.


    Well, you've mentioned the approaching elections. Has there been any partisan split in Mexican politics? Have any of the major national parties campaigned against the Calderon policy?


    Well, not campaigning for, say, against the idea that you have to end the dominance of the drug traffickers, but certainly suggesting there would be other ways to go about it, as I say, adding more of a social component, these sorts of things.

    So, in that sense, there has been a bit of a split. It will be interesting to see in these elections. I mean, we presume that the PRI, the party that ruled Mexico for generations until 2000, will gain — has the most to gain in these elections, they will come back.

    And what their strategy will be to confront the drug traffickers will be very interesting to see.


    What's the significance of political candidates being among the targets now with these recent murders?


    Well, very important.

    Clearly, the traffickers, the cartels are saying, look, we still control things, and we can determine who runs, who doesn't run, who wins. And in — there are parts of the country where they have determined who the candidate is. And, in this case, I mean, we still don't know what happened to Torre Cantu, the candidate in Tamaulipas. We don't know all the facts yet.

    But one theory is that one cartel saw him as being favorable to the other cartel, and thus they killed him. And more than anything, it was them saying, we can do this. We can kill a major, major candidate who was guaranteed to be the next governor of the state. And so that's a very disturbing trend.

    I think that as least as damaging as that is, is the more insidious way a lot of the cartels have been able to push candidates, determine who runs, finance campaigns, and all their way of penetrating the political class and political power.


    Briefly, before we go, Tracy, has it changed the nature of the campaign? Have candidates had to be more careful about how they appear in public, under what circumstances they engage with the public?



    A lot of candidates have just stopped campaigning. The governments — the federal government has offered armored cars and more protection for a lot of the candidates. Some have accepted. Most have not. Some just simply do not campaign or they campaign in very restricted ways. a kind of silencing that frankly a lot of parts of Mexican society have experienced.


    Tracy Wilkinson of The Los Angeles Times, thanks for joining us.


    Thank you.