Mexico President Felipe Calderon Says Drug War Threatens Democracy

President Felipe Calderon said Wednesday the future of Mexican democracy is at stake in the government’s fight against official corruption and organized crime, and he criticized politicians who he said want to return to the era when gangs were tolerated.

Calderon also called for making legislators more accountable to the public, including reducing the number of Congress members while allowing them to serve more than one term and face voters’ judgment in re-election bids.

Speaking at a conference on security, the president gave a scathing appraisal on how far corruption has reached into Mexican government circles ahead of the July 5 midterm elections.

“What is at stake today is not just the result of an election, but rather the future of democracy, of representative institutions,” he said. “For years … crime was allowed to grow expand and penetrate. Perhaps people thought it was a manageable thing.”

Calderon said the country, which has seen more than 10,800 deaths in organized crime violence since he took office in December 2006, “is at a historical crossroads.”

“To turn one’s head, to act as if you don’t see the crime in front of you, as some politicians want to do, is no option for Mexico,” he said.

He painted a grim picture of the security situation in some of the most violent parts of the country, noting that crime gangs and drug cartels are carrying out “an interminable recruitment of young people without hope, family, opportunities, future, beliefs or convictions.

“They turn up dead in some morgue and nobody claims their bodies, as happens with more than 30 percent of the bodies in the most violent cities, like Ciudad Juarez,” across the border from El Paso, Texas.

In Ciudad Juarez, authorities said Wednesday that gunmen in a passing car killed an American teenager and his Mexican cousin as they stood at a corner. Officials didn’t release any information about a possible motive, and no arrests were made.

The victims were identified by a relative as Raymundo Perez, 15, a student at El Dorado High School in Socorro, Texas, southeast of El Paso, and his cousin Alan Perez, 18, of Ciudad Juarez. Raymundo Perez lived in Socorro with his grandmother and aunt but spent vacation in Ciudad Juarez, where his parents live.

Earlier in the day, unidentified assailants in Ciudad Juarez tossed gasoline bombs into a billiard hall and a money exchange office. In 2008, more than 30 businesses were burned in the city, where threats of arson are often used by extortionists linked to drug gangs.

In the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, investigators on Wednesday found the bodies of two local police officers who had been shot to death, the state’s public safety department said in a statement. It said the officers were kidnapped earlier Wednesday a block away from city hall in the town of La Union.

Calderon repeated calls he made earlier in his political career as a congressman for reducing the number of federal legislators, now 500 seats in the Congress and 128 in the Senate. He didn’t offer any specific numbers, but argues that having fewer lawmakers would make it easier to hold them accountable for how well they work.

He also said letting legislators run for re-election would make them accountable to their constituents. In the current system, politicians from president to congressmen to town officials can serve in a specific post for only a single term, generally three or six years.

Hours after Calderon warned about corruption, federal agents and soldiers arrested at least 50 local and state police officers in the central state of Hidalgo, an area control by the Zetas, a gang of hit men tied to the Gulf cartel.

– Article from The Associated Press.