Mexico Drug War Rages On

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A total 14,000 have been killed in Mexico since 2006. And the war on drugs south of the border is far from over. Mexican president Felipe Calderon has ordered the Mexican Army to lead the fight, but many say the cartels have gained tremendous power. Host Jacki Lyden talks to Prof. Jorge Chabat, who teaches at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics in Mexico City, about the state of the war and its effect on the county.


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden filling for Michel Martin.

Coming up, if you are planning to buy a diamond ring or a beautiful gold necklace, how can you be sure your purchase won't fuel violence and corruption in the country that it came from? We'll find out in a few minutes.

But first, since Mexico's war on drug started almost four years ago, more than 14,000 people have died in the ongoing fight between government forces and the drug lords. United States has been closely involved in that fight, providing resources and intelligence to the Mexican army.

President Felipe Calderon has ordered his nation's army to lead the narco war and reorganize Mexico's corrupt and poorly trained police forces. In a few minutes, we'll speak with Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat, who spent eight months on special assignment following Tijuana's head of police.

But first, we speak with Professor Jorge Chabat. He's a professor at the International Studies Department at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics. Professor Chabat has spent many years studying drug trafficking in the country and he joins us on the phone from Mexico City. Welcome.

Professor JORGE CHABAT (International Studies, Center for Research and Teaching in economics): Oh, it is my pleasure. How are you?

LYDEN: Well, I'm fine, thank you. Professor, the Wall Street Journal reports today that this year, in the city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the river from El Paso, there are a 165 violent deaths per 100,000 residents that is over three times as many per 100,000 as Baghdad. Are cities like this narco war zones?

Prof. CHABAT: This war is going on in some cities in the country. It's not the whole country. Basically violence is concentrated in some border cities in which drug traffickers are fighting for the control. And, well, in some parts of Mexico, you have the situation, and obviously this is something very concerning, yeah.

LYDEN: Well, obviously we're looking at those places, where this is a problem. But the scope of the drug gangs, whether you're living in a place like Ciudad Juarez or some place much safer, the scope of the drug gangs is still great. Tell us about their scope in and outside of Mexico. We've heard things about siphoning oil lines, infiltrating border agents in the United States, things like that.

Prof. CHABAT: Drug gangs are fighting for the control of routes of drugs to the United States and territories. And in that process, well, the corrupt public officers in Mexico, if they can, they corrupt officers in the United States. And they are fighting each other and killing each other. In general terms, I will say that most of the violence is among themselves. Sometimes it affects population, but majority of the deaths are of drug traffickers fighting for the territories.

LYDEN: According to El Universal newspaper, 6,000 people have died this year alone. How does that affect the way people live in Mexico?

Prof. CHABAT: Well, yeah, you live in a city in which drug traffickers are fighting each other, well, it can affect your everyday life, but it depends where do you live. If you live in Mexico City, you don't notice that there is a war on drugs unless you read the newspapers.

LYDEN: Even if there is a 45,000 Mexican army soldiers on patrol? I'm sorry, it's a little hard for me to believe that people could be that blase about it.

Prof. CHABAT: Well, no. They are missing some parts of the country, in some cities, in the border with the U.S. Obviously, you cannot make your life as usual, sometimes you cannot go to the places you used to go. But some people perceive the arm industry as a trade, but some people don't. But I see this is not a general life situation. We have to see case by case.

LYDEN: Jorge Chabat is professor at the International Studies Department at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics and he joined us on the phone from Mexico City. Thank you, sir.

Prof. CHABAT: Okay. Well, that's my pleasure.

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