Friday, March 13, 2009

PM - A thousand dead and rising: Mexico's drug war worsening

ABC Online

ABC Online

PM - A thousand dead and rising: Mexico's drug war worsening

[This is the print version of story]

PM - Friday, 13 March , 2009  18:42:00

Reporter: Michael Vincent

MARK COLVIN: The US President Barack Obama has appointed a police chief with a reputation for focusing on harm minimisation as his new drugs czar.

It's being seen as an indication that the Obama administration will put more effort into rehabilitating drug offenders rather than just jailing them.

But the new director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, will have a lot more on his hands, especially on the United States' southern border.

Mexico's war on drugs is escalating.

More than 1000 people have been killed since the start of the year as drug cartels battle for supremacy.

Yesterday Forbes magazine listed the Mexican drug lord Joaquin 'Shorty' Guzmán on its world rich list with $US1 billion in assets.

Michael Vincent reports.

(Sound of cameras clicking)

MICHAEL VINCENT: Forensic photographers doing their work. This weeks' latest gruesome murder scene; five heads in eskies with threatening notes to their gang members, found on a highway in the central west state of Jalisco.

In the northern border city of Juarez the morgue is overflowing. Murdered policemen lie next to dead hit men in the rows of zipped white bags.

Dr Maria Concepcion Molina works to identify the dead.

MARIA CONCEPCION MOLINA (translated): They always want us here, in the night, in the afternoon, in the morning. With all these events that have been happening, there are just so many bodies. They call us at home and tell us to come in, to work, work overtime, work double shifts - so here we are.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Juarez is separated from El Paso in Texas by a bridge across the Rio Grande.

Cocaine, heroin, amphetamines and marijuana go north, cash and weapons come south.

The man who oversaw the war on drugs for President Bill Clinton, retired Army General Barry McCaffrey recently wrote that:

"Mexico is on the edge of the abyss. It could become a narco-state in the coming decade."

"The confiscation rates by Mexican law enforcement of hand grenades, RPGs, and AK-47s are at the level of wartime battlefield seizures.

It is hard to understand this seeming indifference and incompetence of US authorities at state and federal levels to such callous disregard for a national security threat to a neighbouring democratic state.

We would consider it an act of warfare from a sanctuary state if we were the victim."

MICHAEL VINCENT: So concerned are the Americans that there's been debate in the US about deploying the National Guard to its southern border.

Last Friday the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen was in Mexico for talks.

Today the White House released a statement from President Obama saying he would have a strategy in place within months to address security and violence on the border.

In Mexico, the military has been deployed for several years to combat the cartels.

The drug lords have such wealth they, in turn, have recruited soldiers from Mexico's Special Forces.

Forbes Magazine this week included Joaquin 'Shorty' Guzman on its latest list of the world's billionaires. He's Mexico's most wanted man.

ANA FRANCO (translated): It's embarrassing. And worse, it's creating an example for young people to aspire to.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Ana Franco is president of the civil action group Mexicans United Against Delinquency.

ANA FRANCO (translated): Many citizens are losing faith in the system and this country's ability to turn things around. And that sense of hopelessness is only growing with the global financial crisis.

MICHAEL VINCENT: How bad is the situation in Mexico?

ANA FRANCO: It's really bad. It's difficult.

ANA FRANCO (translated): It's delicate and it's serious.

MICHAEL VINCENT: The majority of those killed are involved in the drug war directly, but Ana Franco says the effect of the torture and gruesome killings, some of which are filmed and put on the internet, has intimidated the wider Mexican society.

ANA FRANCO (translated): The criminals are very intelligent, very dynamic. They see their interests are being affected so they are responding with a power, a force and organisation that paralyses the rest of the citizenry.

They stay in their homes and don't work together. So the doubts we've had for many years in our judicial system, the criminals are taking advantage of that and creating fear. It means we're going backwards.

MICHAEL VINCENT: It has been described as a type of terrorism; narco-terrorism.

ANA FRANCO (translated): Yes, it is a psychological terrorism.

MICHAEL VINCENT: Ana Franco says all aspects of society need attention. Cleaning up the judicial system and the culture of reporting all crimes being key.

But also ensuring education and social opportunities for young people so they don't join the cartels.

However, she suspects it will take 15 years at least before there is a noticeable change in Mexico.

MARK COLVIN: Michael Vincent.

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Peter S. Lopez aka: Peta

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