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Drug terror in Mexico

The struggle against drug trafficking must involve society as a whole, to save democracy

To speak of crime, however highly organized, is no longer an adequate description of reality in Mexico, where multiple wars are being waged: drug cartels against society; among themselves, for control of territory; and, as always, against the state. As President Felipe Calderón has put it, these are real terrorist attacks, which the country has to withstand at all costs. And the future of democracy in Mexico will depend on whether the state prevails against this terror.

Last week a number of criminals burst into a casino in Monterrey to set the place on fire, causingthe death of 52 people who were suffocated, burned, or trampled in the rush to escape from the flames. But even an attack as crazed and monstrous as this has its "explanation." The fact that it is not the first establishment of this sort to suffer such an attack points to a war between drug gangs - five people, suspected of belonging to the Zetas cartel, have been arrested and are said to have confessed to the crime.

Rival gangs attack each other in what, it is generally believed, are assaults motivated by the need to protect their economic interests or legal investments. Together they all try to bring the Mexican state to its knees by creating an image of ungovernability in the eyes of public opinion that would oblige the state to negotiate a "ceasefire" - under cover of which the drug cartels would simply go on enjoying the situation of impunity in which they have so notoriously flourished for so long.

Calderón has reacted by accusing the United States of extreme leniency - indeed of virtual indifference - in the face of this problem. The president has demanded, for the umpteenth time, an end to "the criminal sale of high-powered weapons" to the drug cartels, as well as a more effective struggle, on the territory of the United States itself, against the immense drug trade in North American cities. US President Barack Obama has responded with the rhetoric of understanding and good intentions customary in such cases, but has failed to come up with any concrete proposals to combat the evil.

The Mexican leader must not, however, take the easy way out by casting all the blame in the direction of the United States, however true his assertion may be. The struggle is no longer solely the affair of the Mexican state, nor can the sending of more police to Monterrey be a solution. The struggle against the drug gangs is now the task of Mexican society as a whole.

Whoever fails to report a criminal activity; whoever fails to act, to oppose to the extent of his abilities the cancer of drug trafficking, is failing to live up to what the nation requires of him in its hour of need. And all this within the framework, and with the energetic and effective backing, of the public institutions at all levels and in all branches of government - who must never lose sight of the fact that they are fighting for the survival of a modern, effective and democratic Mexican state.

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