Thirty-five Mexican soldiers recently destroyed a marijuana cultivation operation in the western state of Michoacán, the Christian Science Monitor reports. The small victory is part of President Felipe Calderón’s massive military effort to crack down on one of Mexico’s most entrenched problems: drug trafficking and organized crime, the Monitor says in the first of a three-part series. The sight of soldiers pulling up plants one by one in a tiny field illustrated the enormity of targeting Mexico’s vast illicit drug trade, which includes poppy fields, meth labs, and cash-flush criminals.
The number of drug cartel-related murders exceeded 2,100 last year, nearly double the average over the previous five years. The problem is spilling over the border with the U.S., which asserts that 90 percent of drugs coming from Latin America enter through Mexico. The more than 17,000 federal troops and police Calderón has sent to the drug war’s front lines are the stars of his mission to show that he’s in control. Real results, say analysts, depend on whether he can focus on the tougher, less visible fight to root out corruption in local police forces and improve the court system. Authorities in Operation Michoacán have arrested dozens of people, including suspected drug lords. They have seized firearms, bulletproof vests, antennas, and telephones, and destroyed more than a thousand acres of marijuana fields.