Democracy in Mexico under 'threat' from drugs cartels
By Adam Thomson in Mexico City
Published in the Financial Times: July 14 2008 03:00 | Last updated: July 14 2008 03:00
The head of Mexico's intelligence service has warned that the country's democratic institutions, including the national Congress, are under threat from powerful drugs cartels.
In one of the frankest admissions yet from a leading authority of the scale of the problem confronting Mexico, Guillermo Valdés, head of Cisen, the government's intelligence organisation, told the FT and a small group of foreign media recently: "Drug traffickers have become the principal threat because they are trying to take over the power of the state."
Mr Valdés said the gangs, which have grown wealthy from the multi-billion-dollar drugs trade, had co-opted many members of local police forces, judiciaries and government entities in their efforts to create local structures to protect their business.
Those efforts, he said, could now also be targeting federal institutions such as Congress itself. "Congress is not exempt . . . we do not rule out the possibility that drug money is involved in the campaigns [of some legislators]," said Mr Valdés.
His comments come as George W. Bush, US president, this month signed into law the Merida Initiative, an aid package that will provide $400m (€250m, £201m) of anti-narcotics assistance to Mexico this year.
The aid, an open recognition by the US government that things south of the border appear to be deteriorating rapidly, will provide Mexican authorities with helicopters, training and surveillance equipment, among other things. It is believed that Cisen will receive only about $20m of the assistance.
Violence resulting from Mexico's drugs war has climbed to alarming levels this year. According to figures that the government's public security cabinet is expected to release this week, there were 443 drugrelated murders last month alone. That is by far the highest monthly tally since President Felipe Calderón declared war against organised crime when he took office in December 2006. It brings the total number of drug-related murders to 4,699 in the past 19 months, according to government figures.
In a gruesome reminder of how dangerous Mexico has become, a group of more than 60 heavily armed men, thought to work for one of the drugs cartels, went on a killing spree in the northern city of Culiacán on Friday. They murdered 12 people in three separate shoot-outs within eight minutes.
Mr Valdés' remarks on the threat to Mexico's national Congress come as some of its members have expressed outrage at the discovery last month that Cisen had hired a private company to investigate their movements.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008