Mexican bicentenary year closing in familiar bloody fashion

This has been another violent year in Mexico and celebrations for the bicentenary of the uprising that led to independence and the centenary of the Revolution have been overshadowed by record numbers of deaths.

There was some slight relief for Mexican president Felipe Calderon this week as the National Security Council (CSN) released figures showing decreases in the weekly death toll for the country’s two most deadly states, the border regions of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.

Furthermore, the death toll in Ciudad Juarez, the most dangerous city, was slashed by 50% last month. But, just as has happened in the past when promising data have been published about the city, the information has been rendered fruitless as this weekend (4/5 December) has been another bloody one. Gangsters shot dead 10 people in two separate attacks in Juarez, according to the state-run news agency Notimex. Firstly, a group of armed men ambushed four municipal policemen and six people at a local metal works shop were also killed when gunmen gatecrashed a barbecue, continuing gangsters’ penchant for committing multiple murders at parties and family get-togethers. There have been more than 2,500 deaths in Juarez so far this year.

There are two particular areas of growing concern for the government, which launched the US-backed ‘war on drugs’ four years ago. The first is the rising numbers of women who are involved in the war. On 19 October, a 20-year-old criminology student was sworn in as the police chief in the town of Guadalupe Distrito Bravo, in Chihuahua state. She was following in the unfortunate footsteps of Hermila Garcia Quinones, who was the first Mexican woman to take charge of a local police force. Last week, Mrs Garcia was assassinated.

The second area is particularly chilling: the children who work for the gangs. In the same week as Garcia’s death, Mexican soldiers arrested a 14-year-old boy on suspicion of beheading victims for a faction of the Beltran Leyva cartel.

But the encouraging figures from the CSN do not mask the truth: the drugs war is far from over and the strength and reach of the gangs shows no sign of abating. More than 10,000 people have been killed this year and the total figure since 2006 has surpassed the gruesome milestone of 28,000. There were massed parades and fiestas galore in September (Independence) and November (Revolution) but in this year of historical celebration, the drugs war ploughs on. With neither side backing down, it is hard to see how the situation can improve in 2011.

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