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For Mexico's president, cartels aren't only concern

Mexican President Felipe Calderon will deliver a major speech Thursday, and ahead of that he released video clips touting his priorities — yet none refer to his war on drug cartels.
Image:  Felipe Calderon
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has made fighting crime — not just drug trafficking but extortion and police corruption — a top priority. He's seen here attending an anti-crime roundtable dubbed "Dialog for Security" in Mexico City on Friday.Alexandre Meneghini / AP
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Mexican President Felipe Calderon prepared to deliver what's akin to a state of the union speech on Thursday, and ahead of that he released several video clips touting his priorities — yet none refer specifically to his war on drug cartels.

That war is sure to show up in the formal, written report that Mexico's president sends each year to lawmakers, but the videos reflect topics perhaps closer to most Mexicans than the drug trafficking issue so important in the United States.

Economic recovery, security, road infrastructure, hospitals and health insurance are the topics of choice for the video clips posted on the presidential website Wednesday.

'Honest' cops
Security and the drug wars, which have surged in scope and intensity since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels on taking power in December 2006, would be a logical choice to reference in the president's key speech.

Turf wars, battles with security forces and targeted killings have left 28,000 people dead since then, and 2010 has seen a spurt in slayings including shootings in bars and the murders of town mayors and a gubernatorial candidate.

But instead Calderon spends three minutes talking about the importance of "honest" cops. "That's why we're getting stricter in recruiting and hiring only reliable and professional police," he assures Mexicans as video footage of police in action plays behind him.

Polls show that Mexicans support Calderon's war by a large majority, and Calderon has scored some wins — including the Aug. 30 capture of Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez, a leader of the Beltran Leyva cartel, and the July 29 killing of Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, a senior member of the powerful Sinaloa cartel in northwestern Mexico.

But critics say his strategy of using military troops to go after drug cartels neglects deep-seated problems driving increasing violence, such as police corruption and judicial and prison systems desperately in need of reform.

Plenty to worry about
The topics emphasized in the video clips also reflect a Mexico with plenty of other issues to worry about.

A slow recovery from recession, declining oil output and a slowing U.S. economy are three economic obstacles.

Mexico sends about 80 percent of its exports to its northern neighbor and there are already new signs of weakness. The government reported in late August that Mexico's unemployment rate climbed in July to 5.7 percent after shrinking for the two previous months.

Turf wars
Moreover, Calderon's cartel crackdown has fueled turf wars between rival gangs that have spun out of control, especially along the northern border, and violence is escalating to levels that some fear could deter investment and undermine the tourism industry.

Washington is providing Mexico with more than $1 billion to train police and equip Mexican forces, but many in Mexico say the drug war cannot be won unless the United States clamps down on assault weapons being smuggled southward into Mexico.

Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, recently added his voice to a growing chorus of support for a debate on legalizing drugs, as many see fighting the lucrative racket as futile.

The war on drugs is also expensive, according to the country's finance ministry.

"It has an impact for the government and for companies," Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero said at a news conference Wednesday. "It is bound to have an impact in terms of additional costs for companies and this is why it is so important to fight organized crime in Mexico in a more effective and timely way."

Drug gang violence in Mexico is slicing about 1.2 percentage points off the country's gross domestic product, Cordero said.

Some analysts say the drug war may prompt investors to put projects on hold or eventually weigh on Mexico's currency.