The State Of Mexico's Increasingly Brutal Drug War
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
In Mexico City today, President Felipe Calderon delivered his annual informe, or state of the union report, to the Mexican Congress. The assessment came at a crucial time in his presidency.
As NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Mexico City, the Mexican economy is starting to pull out of recession, but drug-related violence is surging.
JASON BEAUBIEN: In August, Mexico's incredibly violent drug war got even worse. Ciudad Juarez, which was already the murder capital of the hemisphere, set a new monthly homicide record with 336 people killed.
In Tamaulipas, cartel gunmen slaughtered 72 migrants in Mexico's worst massacre in recent history. Also in August, car bombs went off in Ciudad Victoria. A grenade exploded in a bar in Puerto Vallarta. Molotov cocktails ripped apart a strip club in Cancun killing six dancers. Two mayors were assassinated. And Monterrey, which used to be one of the safest cities in the country, was convulsed by mid-day shootouts.
So it's not surprising that Mexicans say that security is one of their biggest concerns right now.
Mr. OTILIO VASQUEZ (Fruit Vendor): (Speaking foreign language).
BEAUBIEN: Otilio Vasquez(ph) is a fruit vendor in a small neighborhood market in Mexico City. Vasquez has a small stand with fresh bananas, tomatillos, prickly pears and some wilting chilis.
The situation in Mexico is critical, the 66 year old says, because of all the killings. All the things the president is trying to do, like sending federal troops to counter the violence, aren't fixing anything.
Several other people in the market also use the word critical to describe the current state of the country. Forty-four-year-old Gabriela Gonzalez(ph) says crime doesn't just affect the narcos or the rich or people along the border.
Ms. GABRIELA GONZALEZ: (Speaking foreign language).
BEAUBIEN: The insecurity is all over, she says. Here in the capital, you have to be careful. She adds that there are a lot of people without work or without decent paying work.
In August, the workers at Mexico's largest airline, Mexicana, were added to the ranks of the unemployed. The former flagship airline filed for bankruptcy and has grounded all of its flights.
But despite all this, the economy is showing signs of bouncing back. Sergio Sarmiento, a political analyst in Mexico City, says this is a potentially pivotal moment in Calderon's presidency. The country had robust economic growth in the first two quarters of 2010. Its auto industry came roaring back with exports rising 60 percent this year. Inflation remains low.
Mr. SERGIO SARMIENTO (Political Analyst): The economy is going, the economy is doing much better than we could have expected.
BEAUBIEN: But Sarmiento says the economic growth is being threatened by the rampant drug violence.
Mr. SARMIENTO: In 2006, we had a little over 2,000 executions in Mexico, and now we're having over 7,000, and we haven't even finished the year. So this is really the most worrisome part of the situation of the country at this point.
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President FELIPE CALDERON (Mexico): (Speaking foreign language).
BEAUBIEN: President Calderon, in a series of television ads he launched along with the informe, talks directly about the security problems that his war against the drug cartels has spawned. He says he's working to improve and modernize Mexico's police and to root out corrupt officers. Calderon stresses how he's also fighting crime by increased spending on public education and social programs.
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Pres. CALDERON: (Speaking foreign language).
BEAUBIEN: Calderon pledges that the most important thing for him is that people can be safe in any part of the country. And he says his drug war, that's already claimed almost 30,000 lives, is worth the effort.
Even if August was a tough month for Mexico, it also brought a moment of national pride when Jimena Navarrete from Guadalajara was crowned Miss Universe. For a few days, Mexican newspaper editors appeared to relish covering their front pages with photos of the 22-year-old beauty queen, rather than images of the latest drug-related killing.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.
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