Mexico's Intensifying Drug War Spills Into 2011

Mexico's drug war continues to claim victims at an astounding rate, and there are no signs that the violence will ease any time soon. In 2010 alone, the death toll from the violence was more than double the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past seven years. Liane talks to NPR's Jason Beaubien about whether the situation might improve in 2011.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

Mexico's drug war continues to claim victims at an astounding rate and there are no signs that the violence will ease any time soon. In 2010 alone, the death toll in Mexican drug violence was more than double the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq during the past seven years.

NPR's Jason Beaubien has been covering the drug wars. He is in Mexico City. Hi, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Good morning.

HANSEN: Twenty-ten was the fourth year of President Felipe Calderon's drug war. How did that year go compared to the first three?

BEAUBIEN: Unfortunately things have just been getting worse in 2010. Almost a 30 percent increase in the number of drug-related killings compared to 2009, and 2009 had set a record as the deadliest year on record in this drug war. So things continue to get worse.

And if you look at some places like Ciudad Juarez, right across from El Paso, Texas, more than 3000 people were killed in a city of about a million and a half people in 2010. So, things continue just to get more deadly in this drug war of President Calderon's.

HANSEN: Be specific. I mean, usually I ask reporters what were the high points of the story that they've covered in the past year. But I think really the question to you is, what were the low points in the Mexican drug war?

BEAUBIEN: I think we had a massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas this year, all killed on one ranch, all together. These are migrants who were heading to the United States. They had been captured by one of these gangs. The drug gangs don't only do drugs. They also moved migrants. They do extortion. They do other rackets. And they had these 72 migrants on a farm and they just murdered them all.

In addition to these migrants being killed in Tamaulipas, the man who is about to become the governor of Tamaulipas - he was leading in the polls, he was just days away from the election - he was gunned down, along with this campaign staff in a convoy of Chevy Suburbans that were covered in electoral banners for his campaign. This was Rodolfo Torre.

You also had one of the leaders of the PAN Party, which is President Calderon's party, he was kidnapped and held captive for seven months. Reports are that his family paid $20 million for him to be released.

You also had car bombs in Juarez. You had violence spreading to Monterrey, which was considered a very safe city, an industrial city sort of in the north of the country. And this growing sense of insecurity that has been really flourishing in parts of the country that had been relatively safe before.

HANSEN: Have there been any successes this year?

BEAUBIEN: From President Felipe Calderon's perspective, there have been successes. His goal has been to go after the top leaders of these cartels and he's been fairly successful in 2010 in ways that he hadn't been in the past. The Beltran Leyva brothers, who are based sort of in Guerrero, southwest of Mexico City, that cartel sort of fell into pieces. They managed to take out the top leader right in the end of 2009, took down his brother a little bit later, one of their top guys was captured a bit after that.

Then, further up on the border, south of Texas in Matamoros, they killed a top leader of the Gulf cartel. La Familia, which operates out of the Michoacan, they caught one of their top guys just this month. So sort of all across the country there has been attack on the top leaders of some of the most powerful cartels in Mexico. That said, you still have the Sinaloan cartel and the Zetas, who have been relatively untouched by this war.

HANSEN: And what you expect to happen in 2011?

BEAUBIEN: Unfortunately it appears that the momentum is that things are going to just continued to get worse, that the conflicts are going to flare up again all across the country, in parts of the country that are remote, in parts of the country that are very urban. That is what it seems like we're heading towards.

Obviously, for Calderon, the big fish out there is Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, the head of the Sinaloan cartel. He's been gaining more and more power as these other cartels have gotten beaten down. So if we were to fall into 2011, that would certainly be a big victory for Calderon in this war.

But there's no sign that the violence is letting up right now. And I think at least into the early part of 2011, that's going to continue.

HANSEN: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Mexico City. Thanks a lot, Jason. Happy New Year.

BEAUBIEN: Happy New Year to you too, Liane.

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