Mexico violence supports parity with Colombia

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    MEXICO CITY - With a blunt remark that grated on Mexicans, Washington's top diplomat was merely echoing a growing concern about the alarming violence and instability being caused by Mexico's war on drug cartels, mounting evidence shows.

    Mexican officials publicly disputed on Thursday the declaration by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton the previous day that Mexico is "looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago."

    Clinton's assessment is nevertheless shared by the crime fighters who dismantled Colombia's killer cartels and have been offering Mexico's government advice and training for more than two years.

    Critics say Mexican President Felipe Calderón's government has been too slow to heed that advice.

    Colombia's police director, Gen. Oscar Naranjo, and others who fended off a criminal takeover in the Andean nation believe Mexico is on the cusp of a battle royal in which politicians, police and judges will increasingly be targeted and terror used against civilians - just as Pablo Escobar and his Medellin cocaine cartel did in their country.

    "They are headed there," Naranjo said in a recent interview.

    Mexican analyst's view

    Organized-crime analyst Edgardo Buscaglia in Mexico said the escalation of cartel violence in his country mirrors Colombia's experience because it is "directly related to the weakness of the state." It differs, he said, in that it arises mostly as rival gangs fight to put their own people in key jobs at the provincial and local level - such as mayor, prison warden and police chief.

    The cartel assault on Colombia's national government was initially mounted by Escobar himself - atop a single organized-crime group - when then-Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara outed him as a narco.

    Before police gunned him down in 1993, Escobar and his henchmen waged a decade-long reign of terror. They killed hundreds of police, judges, journalists and politicians, starting with Lara.

    The successor Cali cartel kept up Escobar's battle against extradition of traffickers to face U.S. charges - but less violently, choosing instead to buy off much of Colombia's Congress.

    Among suggestions that Naranjo and a brain trust of Colombian crime fighters and allies have offered to the Calderón government:

    • Create an elite, uncorruptible counterdrug unit in the national police, as Colombia did, and protect delicate narcotics investigations by compartmentalizing information.

    • Attack money laundering and political corruption with legislation that makes it easier to track drug money, freeze narco assets and seize traffickers' property.

    • Offer better protection to news organizations to encourage more robust and independent reporting on traffickers.

    Quicker action advised

    Calderón hasn't moved fast enough to implement such initiatives, many analysts say.

    A special investigative unit trained by Colombians and other foreign experts was deployed only recently to the violent border city of Ciudad Juárez - that city's first real investigative police. And last month, the government announced the firing of 3,200 federal police this year for failing tests designed to root out corruption.

    Mexican officials have long argued that their country is nowhere near as violent as Colombia. Mexico's murder rate last year was 14 per 100,000 - well below Colombia's rate of 39 per 100,000. But time may be running out.

    Ciudad Juárez has become one of the world's deadliest cities, with more than 4,000 people killed there in last two years. And Mexico's cartels are increasingly experimenting with terror.

    In July, the Juárez cartel staged the first successful car-bombing in Mexico, killing three people.

    Mexico violence supports parity with Colombia
     

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