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Border Violence on the Rise in Mexico - 2002-11-12

Drug violence is nothing new to the communities that are strung out along Mexico's border with the United States, but a recent increase in murders in the lower Rio Grande valley has authorities concerned. A war over drug profits is seen as the probable cause.

Until recently, Nuevo Laredo and other towns in this part of the border had been spared the kind of violence that has become common in larger cities like Tijuana and Juarez. But, in the past few months, there have been at least 50 murders that authorities believe are linked to the drug trade. Among the victims are eight police officers.

Experts on both sides of the border point to drug lord Osiel Cardenas Guillen as the probable instigator of most violence. The leader of the so-called Gulf Cartel is wanted in both Mexico and the United States on drug smuggling charges. The 35-year-old Cardenas is known locally as "el loco," the crazy one, because of his propensity for violent retribution against informers and rivals.

The news editor for El Manana de Nuevo Laredo daily newspaper, Jorge Vargas, says there is no real proof that Osiel Cardenas is behind the killings. He says there is no evidence, but that it supposed by many that Osiel Cardenas is involved and that he continues to reside in Nuevo Laredo.

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has offered a $2 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Osiel Cardenas. Mexico has sent hundreds of federal police agents to this part of the border to deal with the outbreak in violence and to pursue the Cardenas gang, but Jorge Vargas says this has not stopped the violence. He says that the federal agents move into one town and the violence decreases there, but increases in another place. He says more effective coordination between police units may be necessary.

Mr. Vargas says more than 300 federal police came to Nuevo Laredo a few months ago, including two rapid response teams that later moved on to Reynosa and other violence-plagued border towns.

Mexican President Vicente Fox has made the fight against drug smugglers a priority and his government has scored some notable successes in the past two years. Last week, President Fox outlined a new effort against organized crime that would involve better coordination between various agencies of the government and an all-out attack on all drug smuggling gangs operating on Mexican soil.