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Domestic Dissatisfaction with Mexican Drug War Grows

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Mexico's bloody war on the nation's drug cartels may be losing public and political support, the Washington Post reported July 28.

Some members of President Felipe Calderon's own political party are calling for a shift in tactics in the face of a violent, military-oriented confrontation that has led to more than 10,000 deaths. “The people of Mexico are losing hope, and it is urgent that Congress, the political parties and the president reconsider this strategy,” said Sen. Ramon Galindo, a Calderon supporter and former mayor of Ciudad Juarez.

Critics say that Mexico's drug cartels have expanded their operations and have carried out acts of violence against police, the military, government officials and others with relative impunity. “The question is whether the country can withstand another three years of this, with violence that undermines the credibility of the government,” said Carlos Flores of Mexico's Center for Investigations and Advanced Studies in Social Anthropology.  “I'd like to be more optimistic, but what I see is more of the same polarizing and failed strategy.”

The campaign has resulted in the arrest of 76,765 drug suspects, and backers say Mexico has little choice but to use the military to fight the cartels. “No one has told us what alternative we have,” said Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont, who said the government has no intention of changing its tactics. “We are committed to enduring this wave of violence.  We are strengthening our ability to protect the innocent victims of this process, which is the most important thing.  We will not look the other way.”

Anthony Placido, intelligence chief for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said he wouldn't change a thing about Calderon's strategy. However, he said the Mexican president is “also fighting the clock. Public support for this can't remain high forever.  He's really got to deliver a death blow, or significant body blow, in the short term to keep the public engaged.”

“In a series of national surveys, polls consistently have found a reasonable but cautious level of support for using the military in the front lines against the cartels,” said pollster Dan Lund. “But in all the states where the military is actually deployed, the support goes down, sometimes dramatically.”

Cartels like La Familia have tried to exploit such concerns by portraying themselves as allies of the common people. Combined with the harsh tactics used by Mexican police in the crackdown, such appeals may be effective.

“You don't have the hearts and minds of the local population,” said policy analyst Carlos Heredia said.  “And if the local drug lords play Robin Hood, then you are lost.  Because the people are ultimately going to say, 'What do those officials in Mexico City care about us? They despise us.  And these drug guys, at least they give us something.'”

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