Drug Violence Marks Bloody Day In Mexico

Mexico's president is vowing to push forward with his controversial war against drug cartels even as violence surges to new levels. Monday was one of the most deadly days in Mexico since President Calderon launched his offensive against the narcotics gangs more than three years ago.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The news from Mexico's drug war is getting worse. Yesterday was one of the deadliest days since President Felipe Calderon launched his offensive against the narcotics gangs three and a half years ago. The violence is now occurring throughout Mexico. NPR's Jason Beaubien filed this report from Mexico City.

JASON BEAUBIEN: The day began with an ambush of a federal police convoy in the western state of Michoacan. That attack left 10 officers dead. Hours later, more than two dozen inmates died in a gang-related gun battle inside a prison in Sinaloa. Further north, several tortured bodies turned up outside Monterrey in the state of Nuevo Leon. And in Chihuahua, three federal police officers were gunned down.

Monday followed on the heels of a particularly bloody weekend. Twenty-eight people were found executed in the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit, and 30 more were killed in the border city of Juarez.

Officials attribute almost all of this violence to Mexico's unrelenting drug war.

Josefina de Jesus Garcia Ruiz, the secretary for public security in Sinaloa, says the confrontation in her prison was between two groups of inmates being held on federal organized-crime charges.

Ms. JOSEFINA DE JESUS GARCIA RUIZ (Secretary for Public Security, Sinaloa): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Garcia says one group of inmates entered a high-security section of the institution and assassinated 17 of their rivals. They then moved through the prison, executing other inmates. Local media reported that most of the dead were members of the Zetas, who've been fighting the Sinaloan cartel for control of drug-smuggling routes in various parts of Mexico.

An AK-47 assault rifle and several other guns were found in the prison after authorities regained control of the facility.

Monday's wave of violence came on the same day that President Felipe Calderon published a 5,000-word defense of his drug war in several local newspapers.

Professor JORGE CHABAT (Department of International Studies, Center for Research and Teaching in Economics): Basically, what he says is that the purpose of this war is to recover security for common citizens.

BEAUBIEN: Jorge Chabat is a professor in the department of international studies at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics, in Mexico City. He's written extensively about President Calderon's drug war.

In this news statement, Calderon says the cartels have grown into a public security threat, and that previous administrations tolerated the narcotic traffickers in Mexico.

Prof. CHABAT: And I think, in that sense, he's right. I mean, the previous army and soldiers thought they could control drug trafficking. But in real terms, what's happened is drug trafficking was controlling the government. And the consequences - is what we are seeing right now in Mexico.

BEAUBIEN: And those consequences are killing, killing and more killing. In the border city of Juarez, more people have been killed over the last two months than were murdered in New York City in all of 2009. And the steady increase in violence isn't just along the border.

Last Thursday, 85 people were executed across the country. This was the single deadliest day in Mexico since Calderon launched his drug war in December of 2006. Despite the violence continuing to grow, Calderon insists that Mexico has no other choice than to confront these powerful organized criminals. And the president says the rise in murders is an unavoidable result of the cartels fighting each other and the state.

Calderon also lists, as the primary cause of this bloody war, the huge demand for illicit drugs in the United States.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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