The Cartels Behind Mexico's Drug War

Ruthless battles between competing cartels and government forces have claimed at least 40,000 lives.

Although a specific drug cartel has not as yet been implicated in the recent arson attack on a Monterrey casino that killed 52 people, many observers suspect the incident is a product of the bloody turf wars and extortion rackets involving Mexico's notorious drug cartels.

The ruthless battles among competing cartels and between the cartels and the government forces trying to take them down have claimed at least 40,000 lives since 2006, the year that Mexico's president, Felipe Calderon, launched a crackdown against the cartels that many say has only increased the violence. In 2010 alone, the bloodiest year to date, more than 15,000 people were killed in drug-related violence.

Although there are many areas of Mexico where cartels are not active, in the states and cities they do control, their reach is vast. They not only employ local gangs as enforcers but exert control over police, the military and politicians. Mayors, governors, journalists and police officers have all fallen victim to the cartels' particularly brutal brand of intimidation and violence.

What's more, the cartels have branched out from drug trafficking in recent years and are involved in numerous other criminal enterprises, including kidnapping, counterfeiting, human-smuggling and business extortion of the kind authorities suspect may have been behind the attack at the Monterrey casino, which had been hit twice before the Aug. 26 incident.

With a presidential election on the horizon in 2012, the pressure is on Calderon to curb the violence and rethink the strategy he set in motion in 2006. Back then, the president set about dismantling the local police forces he felt had been corrupted by the cartels and brought in tens of thousands of his own federal troops and police to pursue the drug lords. Some say this only led to more violence, as the cartels were now fighting not only each other but federal forces as well, and more and more civilians were getting caught in the crossfire.

Calderon has also been criticized for his tactic of going after the high-profile heads of the cartels, which often provokes violent power struggles within the organizations that breeds more killing and violence.

- Read the entire article at CBC News.

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