The List

5 signs that Mexico is losing its drug war

In Mexico, drug violence has become a routine part of the news. But some moments stand out as particularly frightening

In the four years since Mexican President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on drug cartels, clashes between powerful drugrunners and Mexico's police have skyrocketed in frequency and intensity. Since 2006, over 28,000 people have been killed, including 2,000 police officers — and the carnage shows no sign of slowing down. Calderon remains optimistic, at least publicly, but faces mounting criticism over the violence. Here are five especially troubling signs for what many consider a failed war:

1. A town's entire police force quitsNo officers were injured when gunmen fired more than 1,000 shots at police headquarters in Ramons, a small town in an area "torn by fighting between the Gulf and Zetas drug gangs."  But the attackers (who tossed six grenades for good measure) made their point — all 14 of the town's police officers promptly quit. Their new headquarters had opened just three days before the attack. (Watch an AP report about the police force)

2. The college student who became chief of policeIn the small, crime-ridden town of Praxedis Guadalupe Guerrero, nobody was eager to serve as police chief for understandable reasons — the last person who took the job was killed in June. So when 20-year-old criminology student Marisol Valles Garcia volunteered, she made international news. "I took the risk because I want my son to live in a different community to the one we have today," Guerrero said at a press conference.

3. Cops accused of killing their mayor It has become an all-too-common story in Mexico: A public official is murdered, and a security guard or police officer turns out to be involved. When Santiago mayor Edelmiro Cavazos was killed in August, six city police officers, including one posted at Cavazos' home to protect him, were quickly arrested and accused of helping a drug cartel pull off the crime. It was hardly an isolated incident, since most of Mexico's 430,000 officers "find themselves outgunned, overwhelmed and often purchased outright by gangsters."

4. A police chief is decapitatedIn early October, Rolando Flores, the lead investigator on a high-profile case involving two Americans, was murdered, and his severed head was left in a suitcase in front of a military compound. In a sign of how routine such incidents have become, officials weren't sure if the decapitation was related to the Falcon Lake case or to other cases Flores was investigating.

5. Killers target rehab centers Not content to kill judges and mayors, gunmen appear to be going after former colleagues who may be trying to reform themselves. Last Sunday, gunmen lined up 13 recuperating addicts and executed them; two days earlier, another 14 people undergoing rehab had been gunned down. Such attacks have occurred before, but their rising intensity "could signal the lengths to which Mexico’s drug lords will go to prevent reformed addicts from giving information to authorities."

Sources: MSNBC, Houston Chronicle, The Nation, Huffington Post, Christian Science Monitor, New York Daily News

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