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Mexico Drug War Leaves Hundreds Dead

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Mexico Drug War Leaves Hundreds Dead

Latin America

Mexico Drug War Leaves Hundreds Dead

Mexico Drug War Leaves Hundreds Dead

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During the last two weeks in Mexico, drug violence has claimed more lives than at any time since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in 2007. Hundreds of people are dead and local politicians are calling for federal police to patrol the streets.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

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

During the last two weeks in Mexico, drug violence has claimed more lives than at any time since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels three and a half years ago. Hundreds of people have been killed across the country as cartel gunmen clash with each other and the authorities.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports.

JASON BEAUBIEN: The casualty numbers are staggering. In Michoacan, gunmen ambushed a convoy of Mexican federal police officers, killing 12 and injuring 15 others. The same day, in Sinaloa, a clash between rival drug gangs in a prison left 29 inmates dead. The next day, 15 people were killed in a shootout in the tourist town of Taxco, south of the capital. Then on Thursday, a firefight near the border, between Mexican soldiers and cartel members, in Tamaulipas claimed 12 lives.

(Soundbite of bell ringing)

BEAUBIEN: The normally peaceful city of Tepic, in the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit, has also been hit by this violence. Just yesterday, Mexican soldiers exchanged gunfire for three hours with a band of alleged cartel hit men just on the outskirts of the city.

Residents in Tepic say the wave of shootings has created a communal psychosis. People don't go out at night. The governor shut down the public schools, and local politicians are calling for federal police to patrol the streets.

Mr. RISELDA ESPARZA (President, PRI): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Riselda Esparza(ph), president of the PRI, the institutional revolutionary party in Nayarit, says people here are not used to living amidst daily drug cartel gun battles. She says they're used to working hard, living in peace. Esparza says the fear among people in Nayarit is very real right now, and it needs to be addressed by the federal government.

President Felipe Calderon has acknowledged the growing public frustration with this drug war. This week, he issued a 5,000-word defense of his strategy against organized crime, and gave a televised address to the nation on the subject.

President FELIPE CALDERON (Mexico): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: We have a long-term strategy against organized crime, and we are on track, the president said.

More than 23,000 people have died in Mexico in drug-related violence since Calderon launched his offensive against the cartels in December of 2006. He vowed to push forward with this controversial fight.

His administration also this week went after the billions of dollars in profits that the drug cartels launder each year in Mexico. The Mexican treasury says roughly $10 billion in suspected cartel cash - in actual, physical U.S. currency -gets deposited each year into Mexican banks. To make it harder to launder this money, people will now only be allowed to exchange or deposit $300 a day, or $4,000 a month, worth of U.S. greenbacks.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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