There have been 2,000 drug-related murders in Mexico this year, including scores of ghastly beheadings, putting 2008 well on pace to break last year’s record of 2,500 killings, reports Time magazine. Hundreds of victims are police, including the chief of the federal police, who was killed in May. President Felipe Calderón insists that the “state is stronger than any criminal organization, but in a survey by the Mexico City daily Reforma, 53 percent said the narcos were winning the drug war. Even Washington, famous for ignoring crises south of the border, is alarmed. To back up Calderón–and keep the mayhem from spilling into the U.S.–Congress approved $400 million for Mexico in 2009 as part of the Mérida Initiative, a three-year aid package for beleaguered drug-interdiction forces.
Is Washington making the smartest use of the Mérida money? More than two-thirds of it will buy tools like helicopters and surveillance technology. Mexico, the hemisphere’s fourth largest economy, already has a $7 billion federal-security budget and can acquire those tools by itself. What Mexico needs more of from the U.S., say security experts, is financial and technical help in recasting its dysfunctional police and judiciary–more professional training, infrastructure, and especially pay. Too many of the nation’s police, many of whom earn a measly $5,000 a year, moonlight for the drug gangs.