After a year in office, Calderon vows drug war won’t flag
Fighting drug gangs and organized crime remains the top priority of Mexico’s government, President Felipe Calderon said Saturday as he marked his first year in office.
“The biggest threat to Mexico’s future is lack of public safety and organized crime,” Calderon said in a speech at the National Palace. “But with one year in office, I am more convinced than ever that we are going to win this battle.”
Calderon said that since launching a nationwide military and police offensive against drug gangs in January, security forces have arrested about 15,000 people with links to organized crime and made significant drug busts. Mexican authorities last month seized 26 tons of cocaine in what they called the world’s biggest single cocaine bust. In October, authorities seized 11 tons of cocaine in northern Mexico.
Calderon has deployed more than 24,000 agents to areas plagued by violence, but killings and crime remain rampant. The government has released no official figure for drug-related killings for 2007, although Mexican newspaper counts put the number at more than 2,000.
In recent days, about 200 heavily armed police landed in Mexico’s oil-producing Gulf Coast state of Campeche, a formerly quiet region that has become the latest front in a war on powerful drug gangs.
The coastal town of Ciudad del Carmen is known more for its links to offshore oil fields than for the drug trade, which is far less visible around the Gulf Coast than in violent towns along the U.S.-border, but authorities want to block the Gulf Cartel’s growing presence in the area.
“It was always quiet here -- there was never a lot of crime, so the authorities weren’t around,” 55-year-old hotel manager Jose de la Cruz said.
“That helped the drug dealers with their transport,” said De la Cruz, whose hotel faces one of two new police roadblocks where cars are searched on the highway near the beachfront.
Eighty-eight federal police with bulletproof vests and automatic weapons were flown in Friday on a commercial airliner. They joined 110 other newly arrived officers and 70 already in town patrolling the humid city streets in pickup trucks.
State-run oil company Pemex operates offshore oil platforms near the town, straight down the Gulf of Mexico from U.S. ports in Galveston, Texas, making it a strategic spot for smugglers, according to Mexico’s deputy security minister, Patricio Patino.
A recent spate of violent crimes in the area has forced security forces to focus on Campeche.
In April, the head of the municipal police was slain. One month later, an assassination attempt was made against his successor.