From the numerous reports of beheadings and execution-style murders, to the 40,000 soldiers deployed in 2006 to reduce the power of drug cartels, Mexico’s war on drugs has grabbed international headlines while becoming a national calamity. This year alone there have been an estimated 3,000 drug-related murders reported across the country, including the recent discovery of about a dozen headless bodies in the Yucatán Peninsula. Yet an equally sinister development has percolated to the surface and is now boiling over. Authorities have reported that a staggering 650 people have been abducted so far this year, a huge increase over the 430 reported in all of 2007. So worried and outraged are Mexicans over their safety that in late August hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest to encourage the government to do something, anything, to protect them.
In response, the Mexican government launched an anti-kidnapping squad consisting of some 300 officers working in five centres, and last week pledged $1 million to all 31 states and the federal district to set up specialized anti-kidnapping units. President Felipe Calderón has also urged congress to pass a bill that would send kidnappers to prison for life without parole, while the country’s national security council is mulling over the idea of erecting high-security prisons for kidnappers, along with standardizing anti-abduction laws.
But the problem may be far worse than it appears on the surface for a country that is second only to Colombia in the overall number of kidnappings reported every year. Human rights groups claim that up to two-thirds of all kidnappings in Mexico go unreported, and they accuse corrupt police officials of aiding criminals in the abductions. To make matters worse, some critics argue that the government’s crackdown on drug activities is the reason why kidnappings are soaring.