Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Bordering on Disaster

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Bordering on Disaster

Article excerpt

The scene was straight out of Sam Peckinpah. Late one night this month, Edgar Eusebio Millan Gomez, Mexico's chief of police, returned to his modest flat in the Colonia Guerrero neighbourhood of Mexico City. He chose to live among the poor to stay close to those he was trying to protect from Mexico's rampaging drug lords, whose killing spree this year has left 1,100 corpes in its wake.

Millan's gesture of solidarity was his fatal error. As he flipped on the lights, he was greeted by a barrage of gunfire. An assassin pumped nine bullets into Millan before he was brought to the ground by a bodyguard. As he lay dying, Millan asked his killer who had sent him. The question went unanswered.

Millan's dramatic murder is merely the most daring in a string of assassinations of police chiefs in a war that has been raging in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon turned up the heat on the country's burgeoning drug cartels. The decision to send in 30,000 troops to bolster inadequate and often corrupt local police has led to a number of arrests of leading dealers.

But the strategy has sparked a brutal wave of retaliation against high-ranking policemen. This month, six police chiefs were killed in a single week, police stations have been bombed and police taken hostage; and there have been mass beheadings. At least three police chiefs have applied to the US for asylum.

Mexico is the main artery for smuggling illegal drugs into the US from Latin America. The trade in marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines isestimated at $23bn a year and the vast profits allow the gangs to buy the latest equipment. While the cartels use corporate jets and submarines to deliver their illicit cargo and are armed with AK-47 assault rifles and bazookas, the Mexican authorities can barely afford to keep their 40-year-old planes in the air. …

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