The nearly 50 murders committed on the final day of a long holiday weekend brought to 2,049 the number of drug-related homicides in Mexico just 74 days into 2010, capital daily El Universal said Tuesday.
In 2006, by comparison, gangland murders did not breach the 2,000 threshold until late November.
The northern state of Chihuahua accounts for nearly a quarter of this year’s slayings, according to the newspaper, which noted the presence of FBI agents in Ciudad Juarez, the state’s biggest city, to investigate the killings last weekend of three people linked to the U.S. Consulate in the violent border metropolis.
Turf battles among drug cartels and the security forces’ struggle against the illegal trade have claimed nearly 19,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006, when current President Felipe Calderon took office.
Vowing to crush the cartels, Calderon has deployed 50,000 soldiers and 20,000 federal police to the country’s most conflictive areas, yet the pace of drug-related killings has only accelerated, from 2,700 people in 2007 to 7,724 fatalities last year.
One factor in the growing carnage is Mexico’s transition from a “transit country” for U.S.-bound cocaine, marijuana and heroin to a drug-consuming nation.
As a result, cartels no longer vie just for smuggling routes, but for control of retail drug sales on Mexican soil.
A February report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime identified the Sinaloa, Gulf and Juarez cartels, La Familia Michoacana, the Beltran Leyva organization and Los Zetas as Mexico’s most powerful drug-trafficking outfits.
The story of Los Zetas is emblematic of the challenge facing Mexico.
The group was formed by deserters from an elite Mexican special forces unit that received advanced training from the U.S. military. After several years as enforcers for the Gulf cartel, the Zetas branched out into kidnapping, extortion and murder for hire before entering the drug trade as an independent player.
Los Zetas’ bid for a piece of the drug pie has prompted the Gulf and Juarez cartels to join forces against the former soldiers, and that struggle is blamed for dozens of deaths in Chihuahua and the neighboring state of Tamaulipas.
Calderon arrived in Ciudad Juarez late Tuesday for talks on a strategy to mend the torn social fabric of Mexico’s murder capital, which lies just across the border from El Paso, Texas.