REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's defense secretary has conceded errors in the country's drug war, in one of the more frank assertions from the government as it wages a military-led campaign against violent traffickers.
Gen. Guillermo Galvan Galvan, speaking last week at a military event commemorating the March of Loyalty, also acknowledged that some regions of the country are not fully under government control, despite the deployment of tens of thousands of troops within the country's borders.
"Of course there have been errors. Recognizing it is loyalty," he said (link in Spanish). "In some regions of the country, organized crime has appropriated the institutions of the state[....] In these [areas] of the national territory, public security has been totally overtaken."
Galvan Galvan did not elaborate on specific regions, but independent security analysts in Mexico and the U.S. point to the vast footholds of the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico's west and the Zetas cartel in the northeast as proof that criminal groups have essentially claimed territory from the federal government.
Last week, the U.S. State Department issued a more detailed travel alert for Mexico that cites varying levels of risk in 18 of Mexico's 32 federal entities (31 states and Mexico City, formally known as the Federal District), or more than half of them.
Mexico's army under Galvan Galvan and the Mexican marines have been accused of human rights abuses, forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings as they seek to dismantle powerful and entrenched drug-trafficking organizations. Civilian complaints against the armed forces have skyrocketed in recent years, with alleged abuses occurring in a climate of "near total impunity," according a report last year by Human Rights Watch.
President Felipe Calderon sent troops into the streets to fight organized crime shortly after taking office in December 2006 and has sought to bolster Mexico's law enforcement system since then with the help of $1.4 billion in U.S. aid.
About 50,000 people have died in drug-related violence, mostly in fighting between rival gangs, although the death toll remains a point of contention. Mexico's federal government reports a death toll of more than 47,500 as of September, but peace activists cite a figure of 60,000, including thousands of people who are missing and remain unaccounted for.
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: Guillermo Galvan Galvan, Mexico's defense secretary, from left; President Felipe Calderon; and Francisco Saynez, naval secretary, attend the commemoration of the March of Loyalty at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City on Feb. 9, 2012. Credit: Ariel Gutierrez / European Pressphoto Agency