Across Mexico, the ability of drug traffickers to topple local governments, intimidate police, and keep drug shipments flowing is raising doubts about the Mexican government’s 3-year-old, U.S.-backed war on the drug cartels, reports the Arizona Republic. Far from eliminating gangs, the battle has exposed criminal networks more ingrained than most Americans could imagine: Hidden economies that employ up to one-fifth of the people in some Mexican states. Business empires include holdings as everyday as gyms and a day-care center.
The death toll continues to mount: Mexico saw 6,587 drug-related murders in 2009, up from 5,207 in 2008 and 2,275 in 2007, says an unofficial tally by the newspaper Reforma. Cartels have multiplied, improved their armament and are perfecting terrorist-style attacks. Some analysts say Mexico is on the verge of becoming a “narco-state” like 1990s-era Colombia. “We are approaching that red zone,” said Edgardo Buscaglia of the Autonomous Technological University of Mexico. “There are pockets of ungovernability in the country, and they will expand.” For the past decade, parts of Mexico have been sliding toward the lawlessness that Colombia experienced, in which traffickers and left-wing rebels controlled small towns and large parts of the interior through drug-funded bribery and gun-barrel intimidation.