LETTER FROM MEXICO

Mexican president calls for nation's help to curb defiant, violent criminals

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By William Booth
Sunday, August 8, 2010

MEXICO CITY -- In unusually somber remarks, President Felipe Calderón told the Mexican people Wednesday that criminal organizations were seeking to topple the state, violence was growing worse, kidnapping and extortion were rampant, and the government needs their help.

It was something that most Mexicans already knew.

"Their business is no longer just the trafficking of drugs," Calderón said. "Their business now is to dominate everyone else."

Calderón warned that criminal mafias were extorting citizens and businesses, demanding "war taxes" that allowed them to buy more powerful weapons to overwhelm government forces.

Another car bomb exploded Thursday, this time in the parking lot of a police station near the state capital of Ciudad Victoria in the northern border state of Tamaulipas, where rival drug cartels are fighting over the billion-dollar trafficking routes into the United States. No one was injured in the blast.

Although the Mexican government and U.S. ambassador were wary of describing a previous remote-controlled car bomb in Ciudad Juarez in July as an act of terrorism, officials appear to be changing their minds as more bombs are found.

"There are methods that are being used by criminals who have no scruples, who wish to intimidate, which of course seek to terrorize the people," said Interior Secretary Francisco Blake.

On Friday, criminal gangs hijacked tractor-trailers and erected a "narco-blockade" on a major highway in Monterrey that leads to the international airport. Dozens of flights, including trips to the United States, were delayed or canceled.

"The behavior of the criminals has changed and become a defiance to the state, an attempt to replace the state," Calderón said at the close of three days of public meetings that were remarkable for their blunt assessments.

The head of the national intelligence service, Guillermo Valdes, revealed that 28,000 people have died in drug violence since Calderón began his military-led, U.S.-backed fight against the drug cartels in December 2006. The number represents 3,000 more dead than the government reported in July.

Valdes said more than 84,000 weapons have been seized, many bought in the United States and smuggled across the border. There have been 963 clashes between criminal gangs and federal forces since Calderón took office, or about one every day. The latest occurred Saturday on a highway in the state of Michoacan, where federal police tried to stop a convoy of luxury vehicles that might have been carrying leaders of the hyper-violent La Familia drug cartel.

Valdes conceded that the Calderón administration has made little progress controlling money laundering and reforming corrupt police. He also said that although the U.S. government has promised more than $1.4 billion in aid, it has been slow to arrive.


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