Mexico’s ‘Eliot Ness’ Seeks U.S. Help

Pubdate: Wed, 19 May 2010
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: David Luhnow


MEXICO CITY-Ten days after taking power following a hotly contested election in 2006, Felipe Calderon sat in the gilded presidential chair and signed a decree that would shape his presidency: an order to deploy 6,000 army troops to his home state of Michoacan to take on drug gangs.  Like many, the president believed the army might have trouble with the drug lords, but would at least force them out of city plazas and back into the shadows.

It hasn’t worked out that way.  Some three years later, more than 23,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence across Mexico, according to government figures.  The bloodshed keeps rising despite the presence of an estimated 45,000 to 60,000 soldiers-roughly a fourth of Mexico’s army-in nine states.

The 47-year-old career politician begins his first official visit to Washington on Wednesday as a leader who started a battle on the doorstep of the U.S.  that turned into a war-a conflict whose consequences will shape Mexico for years to come.

Polls show that while most Mexicans support the president’s war, most think the drug lords are winning.  In the past few weeks, cartel gunmen burst into the Holiday Inn hotel in Monterrey and snatched guests from their rooms.  Drug gangs also blocked the highways leading out of Monterrey, Mexico’s business capital.  Among the victims of the war: a groom coming out of his wedding, a 12-year-old and his mother, and scores of teens.