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Luis Horacio Najera spent a decade reporting in Ciudad Juarez and along the Mexican-U.S. border.
Luis Horacio Najera spent a decade reporting in Ciudad Juarez and along the Mexican-U.S. border.

Luis Horacio Nájera

Start sweeping house, Mr. Calderon Add to ...

The Mexican government's website presents the recent death of drug kingpin Ignacio (Nacho) Coronel in a military raid as one of its central accomplishments in Felipe Calderon's war against organized crime. I don't pretend to rain on the President's parade, but three and a half years after turning the country into a battlefield that has claimed 28,000 victims, this is precious little achievement.

It is naive to consider Mr. Coronel's death a triumph. Mexico's narco structures are like a snake with 100 heads - cut one off and another will arise, more violent than the last.

Evidence of this war's increasing cruelty can be seen in the massacre of 17 people in the northern city of Torreon by drug hit men, in recent car bombings in Ciudad Juarez and Ciudad Victoria, and in the criminal organizations' use of grenades and decapitation.

Their ability to reorganize is also clear. Despite the extradition or death of such drug lords as Osiel Cardenas Guillen, Arturo Beltran Leyva and Vicente Zambada Niebla, Mexican criminal organizations keep expanding into Europe and consolidating across the United States, where their influence has in some cases exceeded that of Colombian traffickers, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Also, from 2006 to 2009, the use of illegal substances in Mexico doubled, which means that efforts to stop local consumption - and trafficking - have failed. Once a country without significant drug addiction problems, Mexico now has one million new marijuana users and 1.35 million new cocaine addicts between the ages of 14 and 21, Mr. Calderon declared in June.

As a result of this war, hundreds of businesses in cities Juarez, Monterrey, Reynosa and other cities have closed because of extortions or kidnappings involving criminal gangs. The country has seen an unprecedented exodus, thousands of people, who have fled from the most dangerous cities to smaller communities or overseas.

Mexico's media have also been deeply affected. The country is ranked as one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters; in cities along Mexico's northern border, some newspapers have had to stop reporting on these drug organizations, fearing recrimination. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 33 reporters and three other media workers have been assassinated and an unknown number have been beaten, threaten, abducted or disappeared. Some of them have decided enough is enough - I am one of them. Despite my passion for my work, I chose to go into exile.

Many of the attacks on reporters are alleged to have been committed by corrupt local police forces, lawmakers and government officials. Mr. Calderon should fulfill his long-standing promise to make crimes against journalists a federal offence, by amending the constitution to give federal authorities the power to investigate, prosecute and punish such crimes. There must also be a full and impartial investigation into the murders and disappearances of journalists by the country's special prosecutor for crimes against journalists and freedom of expression.

The current lack of confidence in Mexico's justice system contributes to the culture of impunity and means many crimes go unreported. According to civil organizations, just 25 of every 100 crimes are reported, and only 1.4 of them result in a verdict.

Defenders of human rights, such as Amnesty International, have expressed concern about the excessive power Mr. Calderon has given to the military and called for an independent body to investigate allegations of abuse or excessive force against civilians. Mexico's official national human-rights commission has received 4,000 complaints about abuses allegedly committed by the army since 2006 - the military should not be allowed to investigate such complaints itself.

There is also a need to strengthen the independence of Mexico's judiciary.

In short, the government needs to raise the bar in prosecuting this war. Taking down a single person or criminal organization is just a small step - the real impact on the global business of drug trafficking is minimal. Mr. Calderon needs to think big and act big - and start sweeping the house.

Luis Horacio Najera spent a decade reporting in Ciudad Juarez and along the Mexican-U.S. border. He and his family have recently been granted refugee status in Canada.

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