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Mexican Government Getting Tough on Drug Cartels

A week after Mexico´s new president, President Felipe Calderon, sent over 7,000 troops to Michoacan, a state riddled with drug violence, the Mexican government announced the capture of a well-known drug lord. Susana Seijas has been monitoring developments and files this report for VOA.

Every year thousands of people across Mexico die in drug-related violence. In Michoacan state, the execution style-killings have claimed the lives of up to 500 people.

Public Security Minister Genaro Garcia says the crackdown on illicit drug trade has begun.

He says Alfonso Barajas, known as "Ugly Poncho," and a local chief of the Gulf cartel, was arrested Saturday in Apatzingan, a battleground town where rival drug gangs have been fighting in recent months.

The drug trade from Mexico to the United States is estimated at some $10 billion a year and includes illicit trade in cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamines. Drug cartels in Michoacan are fighting for control of lucrative drug smuggling routes to the U.S. markets.

But it is the level of violence and the cold-blooded, execution-style murders that prompted President Calderon to act. An armed group of men recently stormed a popular nightclub in Uruapan , Michoacan, and caused havoc by rolling five decapitated heads onto the packed dance floor. This gruesome gesture was apparently intended as a warning to a rival drug gang.

Since its operation began, the Mexican army has burned several marijuana and opium plantations and set up checkpoints searching for well-armed drug hit men who control parts of the state of Michoacan.

So far, more than a dozen people in Michoacán state have been arrested, including two assassins, Leonel López Guizar and Rosalio Mendoza González, who are being held in the town of Apatzingan.

President Calderon says he wants Congress to approve more spending on security, and he has come under fierce criticism for proposing a budget cut on culture and education. A native of Michoacan state Mr. Calderon has made the war on drugs one of his top priorities.

His interior secretary, Francisco Ramirez Acuña, says the new administration is determined to put the drug cartels out of business.

He says in this struggle the government won't skimp on forces and resources to take on crime and establish minimum conditions of order and authority.