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ICC Called To Investigate Mexican President


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon's first move after being elected five years ago was to declare war on drug cartels. Since then, more than 45,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence. Now a group of human rights activists wants the International Criminal Court to investigate. It says the violence is bigger than that in Afghanistan or Colombia, and blames top operators on both sides of the conflict.

NPR's Mexico correspondent Jason Beaubien joins us now from Mexico City. Hello there, Jason.


CORNISH: What more can you tell us about this group of activists and their request to the International Criminal Court?

BEAUBIEN: This group in part is just expressing their frustration with what's been going on. This conflict has dominated the last five years of President Calderon's presidency in Mexico. There's a sense that it's not succeeding, at least from their perspective. Calderon, for his part, denies that this is a traditional war. His administration has just released a statement saying that this is a public security strategy.

Yet, at the same time, you've got a group like Human Rights Watch this month came out with a report, saying that there's been a systematic use of torture by security forces in Mexico in torturing people; that the security forces have also been involved in killing and abducting people. So there's very much a sense that no one else is the watchdog, so this group is turning to international bodies - to the ICC.

CORNISH: And then, from an outsider's perspective, the problem does seem to be spreading in a way. I mean, every day there seem to be new reports of new atrocities.

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. On Thursday, 26 bodies turned up in Guadalajara in the morning traffic. And the day before that they discovered 24 bodies in Sinaloa. This is particularly worrisome in part because Guadalajara has sort of been insulated from the drug war. It's the second largest city. It's known as being fairly peaceful.

At the same time, it is very much known as being in the hands of the Sinaloan cartel. And what appears to be happening is that this was attacks by the Zeta cartel against the Sinaloan cartel. So there's the sense that even places that have been fairly peaceful, have been outside of the war, are now heating up as the Zetas - which are probably the second largest and the second strongest group - attack El Chapo Guzman's Sinaloan cartel in his home turf.

CORNISH: How would you even measure success in, quote, "a war like this," because Calderon has been saying that he's going to battle narco traffickers right since taking office?

BEAUBIEN: You know, when you talk to people inside his administration and get away from some of just the declarations that we're going to, you know, defeat these cartels, the people inside Calderon's administration from the beginning have been saying that they are attempting to weaken these cartels. They do not believe they can really stop the flow of drugs through Mexico to the United States. They know that they're never going to do that.

But their goal is to weaken these cartels to the point where state security forces can control them, rather than the cartels being in a position to basically do whatever they want and control the security forces. So that has been really the behind-the-scenes goal. And the state has had some big successes in bringing down some big cartel bosses.

But in terms of improving security overall, in terms of gaining control of these guys, it doesn't seem like that's happening. Even this week, you had the governor of Sinaloa admitting what many people have been doing for a very long time. He came out publicly and said that he has sent his children abroad for their own security.

CORNISH: Jason, many people say that without wide-ranging reforms across the board in Mexico, efforts to battle narco-traffickers will be undermined by corruption. But has there been any progress on that aspect of this battle?

BEAUBIEN: You know, certainly the administration has attempted to attack corruption. They've attempted to completely reform all of the police forces across the country. But this remains a huge problem in Mexico dealing with corruption, dealing with police who are paid maybe $300 for a month's work. They obviously are going to be looking for other opportunities if they can. So there's been an attempt to improve the rates of pay for the police.

But corruption remains this current that has undermined many of the efforts by Calderon and others, to deal with this huge problem that's facing Mexico.

CORNISH: That was NPR's Jason Beaubien in Mexico City. Thank you, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.
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