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Mexico's Drug Murders Double During Past Year

Mexico's Attorney General says the murder rate from increasingly powerful drug cartels has more than doubled in the past year, and the situation is going to get worse.

Mexico's Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora says 5,376 people have been murdered in drug cartel-related violence this year. That is a 117 percent increase compared to the first 11 months of 2007, and he says the violence is likely to grow worse before it peaks.

The cartels are not only using violence as an implement to achieve their aims, they also have vast amounts of money at their fingertips, which Mexican authorities say they are using as a multi-pronged weapon of corruption.

Mexican authorities recently arrested the former head of Mexico's Federal Anti-Narcotics effort, Noe Ramirez. He is accused of accepting a $450,000 bribe from a narcotics cartel, in return for information.

Attorney General Medina Mora says the arrest was achieved because of close and crucial cross-border intelligence cooperation with the United States.

"The real problem of trust comes from the fact that you deny the problems, or you do nothing about them," he said. "When you face them with determination, this is how you build trust and this is what we are doing with the invaluable support of the U.S. Department of Justice and the DEA."

The United States is providing Mexico with almost half of the first $400 million from the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative. The money is being used for helicopters, planes, inspection equipment and training programs.

The Mexican Ambassador for North American Affairs, Carlos Rico says the U.S. assistance sends a clear message to the drug cartels that Mexico is not alone in its struggle with the criminal organizations.

"The basic message is that Mexico and the United States are committed to fully cooperating against a common enemy, organized crime," he said. "Trans-national organized crime is a menace to the populations of both countries, and we are fully committed on both sides of the border to fight with all our might against that scourge."

Ambassador Rico says that vigilance and hard work have uncovered major corruption that threatens both countries.

"As anyone who looks at the problem from a realistic point of view will know, the kinds of resources, I am not just talking of financial resources, not even arms, the kinds of weapons these people have, gives them a tremendous leverage against all governments of the world," he said. "ATF [Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms] in its own statements to the U.S. Congress said that over 90 percent of U.S. weapons that are taken from organized crime in Mexico come from the U.S."

In Ambassador Rico's view, the fundamental problem is the continuing demand for illegal narcotics in the United States, which remains largely undiminished.

"The key market in this case is a US Market, that in spite of very, very impressive efforts that the U.S. government has put into reducing demand, it has remained as pretty much as it used to be a few years ago," he said. "So, as long as that demand is there and the impressive possibility of amazing profits of illegal operators and criminal organizations, it is going to be pretty much impossible for Mexico to solve the issue."

Ambassador Rico says officials are determined to press on with the fight against drug corruption, but his optimism is confronted by torture, beheadings and other mutilations that are becoming commonplace in some parts of Mexico, as the cartels fight a murderous war for multi-million dollar routes into the United States.

"I am convinced that we will prevail," he said. "We will be facing, of course very, very significant challenges. Many people may feel discouraged at some point. But I am convinced, fully convinced-and this is something that President Calderon has injected in all of us. His commitment has really permeated into all of his collaborators. We are convinced that we will prevail."

But the challenges to the government and Mexican society are daunting. In addition to the growing number of drug-related murders during the past year, a judge recently ordered the arrest of Mexico's former acting Federal Police Chief Gerado Gary. According to the Attorney General's Office, he is accused of connections with a drug cartel, and stealing money from a mansion during a drug trafficking raid.