Drug Violence Rampant in Mexico

Vowing to topple drug cartels in Mexico, President Felipe Calderon has deployed thousands of troops to fight deadly drug gangs. The bloodiest gunfight recently occurred along the border with Arizona when armed assailants killed 22 people, including five policemen, in a five-hour gun battle. More than 900 people were killed in drug-related incidents in Mexico this year.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's go south of the border now to Mexico, where drug violence is rampant. And you get an idea just how rampant if you look at the last week. In the deadliest incident this week, a bloody shootout between drug gangs and security forces left 22 people dead.

To fight narco traffickers Mexican President Felipe Calderon has deployed an unprecedented 30,000 soldiers and federal police. The secretary of public security there, Genaro Garcia Luna, told foreign correspondents yesterday that Mexico remains determined to beat the cartels.

Mr. GENARO GARCIA LUNA (Secretary, Public Security Agency, Mexico): (Through translator) We will not take one single step back. We are not going to leave the community to the mercy of organized crime. Anywhere there is violence by narco traffickers, we will be there.

INSKEEP: Although it's not an easy fight. To illustrate this problem, we've asked NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro to detail the last seven days in the drug war in Mexico. And please be advised that some of the violence described in this story is brutal.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's go through this day by day.

Unidentified Man: Friday, May 11th.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Four Mexican policemen are killed in the port city of Vera Cruz. They were protecting the family of the state of Mexico's governor while the family was vacationing there. According to reports, the drug hit men opened fired from at least two SUVs, riddling the vehicle carrying the policemen with bullets.

Unidentified Man: Saturday, May 12th.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: A severed head, two grenades and a note are left in front of a military barracks also in Vera Cruz. The package is found a day after federal authorities announce that more troops are being sent to the state. An official quotes the notice saying, "we are going to continue even if federal forces are here." Decapitation has become a popular method implored by the cartels to strike fear into their enemies. Last year, at least 26 decapitations took place at the hands of the drug gangs. Often the heads are found with notes attached. Saturday's victim is a 37-year-old auto mechanic who had been kidnapped four days earlier.

Unidentified Man: Sunday, May 13th.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: An army captain is killed. His body is found with two bullets to the head dumped on a highway in the state of Guerrero. He'd been kidnapped a day earlier while vacationing with his family. Another man was found dumped in a wasteland near the border city of Tijuana wrapped in Christmas paper. The man's eyes were taped over and his body showed signs of torture. Also it's announced that a reporter and cameraman from leading Mexican television station TV Azteca are missing after reporting in the northern city of Monterrey. Seven journalists have been killed in Mexico since October. It's the world's second most dangerous place to report. Only Iraq is worse.

Unidentified Man: Monday, May 14th.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The capital, Mexico City, which usually does not see assassinations, wakes up to find that senior official Jose Nemesio has been killed. He headed an intelligence unit in the attorney general's office that dealt with the drug trade. Pro-government lawmakers call for troops to be deployed in the capital.

In Tijuana, the body of a commander of an elite police force is discovered. He was killed with three shots to the head. Also, the director of an anti-kidnapping unit was himself kidnapped as he ate breakfast in a restaurant in Northern Mexico.

Unidentified Man: Tuesday, May 15th.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The use of the military to combat the drug trade comes under fire from the government human rights body. It says in a report that there have been multiple charges of human rights abuses by the military in civilian areas, including the drugging, beating and raping of four teenage girls in the state of Michoacan. And the national newspaper, El Universal, in an editorial announces that so far this year 1,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence, according to their statistics.

Unidentified Man: Wednesday, May 16th.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the bloodiest battle in the drug war to date, 22 people are killed, including 5 policemen and two civilians. The head of public security for Mexico says that the clash began when at least 50 heavily-armed drug hit men kidnapped civilians and policemen close to the border with Arizona. The state government says the police and soldiers then surrounded a ranch in Sonora state where the drug hit men were holding the hostages. The clash lasted for five hours.

Unidentified Man: Thursday, May 17th.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The head of public security in Apatzingan, Michoacan, steps down upon getting out of the hospital. He was there recovering from an assassination attempt.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.

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