More than 12,000 people have died this year in Mexico's drug war, officials said Thursday, making it the deadliest year since President Felipe Calderon launched a government crackdown against traffickers in 2006.
The federal attorney general's office said 12,456 people were killed through Nov. 30.
The overall death toll since the launch of the drug war stands at 30,196, according to figures given to reporters during a year-end breakfast session with Atty. Gen. Arturo Chavez Chavez.
But that figure appeared to underestimate the toll. Federal officials announced in August that 28,228 had been killed in the war, meaning the death rate would have to have slowed considerably since then. But there has been no sign of easing violence as cartels have remained locked in fierce turf battles that have most contributed to the rising toll.
Estimates by Mexican intelligence put the death count at about 32,000.
The rising toll represents a political drag on Calderon, who has sought to assure a jittery public that the crackdown is depleting the cartels' power as they lose bosses to death and arrest.
Although the administration has contended that the vast majority of those killed are drug gang henchmen, the bloodletting has left many Mexicans convinced that the government has lost control of entire regions, such as the crime-ridden northern border state of Tamaulipas.
In a recent survey by the Mitofsky polling firm, 59% of respondents said organized-crime groups were winning the war against federal forces. In a separate poll, 4 in 5 respondents said the country was more violent than a year before.
On Thursday, more than 30 business and civic groups took out full-page advertisements in newspapers pleading with the country's leaders to bring the mayhem under control.
Chavez told reporters that arrests and killings by Mexican forces of top underworld figures, including the reported slaying last week of a reputed drug lord in the western state of Michoacan, were taking a toll on the groups. Chavez said "a lot of evidence" suggested that Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alleged leader of the cult-like La Familia group, was killed in skirmishing with federal forces, though no body was recovered.
In November, marines killed Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, an alleged leader of the Gulf cartel, during a battle in Tamaulipas.
"What is clear is that there is a significant weakening of these criminal structures," Chavez said.
In other developments, Chavez said, officials had not located a fugitive lawmaker from Michoacan, Julio Cesar Godoy, who this week was stripped of congressional immunity from charges that he offered protection and laundered money for La Familia.
Chavez said Mexican authorities would seek the help of Interpol in the search for Godoy, a member of the left-leaning Democratic Revolution Party elected in July 2009. The party's congressional delegation said it had not been in contact with Godoy for at least a week.