MEXICO CITY – Mexico's new attorney general said Tuesday that as many as 80 small and medium-size drug cartels are operating in the country, a number far higher than the last formal government assessment.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam's critique extended an attack by the new Mexican government on the security policy of former President Felipe Calderon, who focused on killing and capturing the heads of cartels.
This week, the new administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto began blaming that strategy for splintering Mexico's relatively few large cartels into a larger number of more dangerous small and mid-size organizations.
Murillo Karam told MVS Radio that officials are working to identify all the country's 60-80 small- and mid-size drug trafficking organizations. In its last public evaluation of the strength of Mexico's cartels, the Calderon administration issued an August report naming only eight large drug organizations. It had, however, said that at least one cartel, the Beltran Leyva group, had split into smaller fragments after a government offensive that killed its leader.
Murillo elaborated on the new administration's critique of the Calderon strategy, holding it directly responsible for a rise in kidnappings and related crimes over the last six years.
"It led to the seconds-in-command, generally the most violent, the most capable of killing ... starting to be empowered and generating their own groups, generating another type of crime — spawning kidnapping, extortion and protection rackets," he said.
Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong launched the critique of Calderon's strategy by telling a meeting of the National Security Council on Monday that financial resources dedicated to security had more than doubled but crime had increased, and with the capture of dozens of drug capos, drug cartels had splintered and become more dangerous.
Calderon repeatedly said before leaving office that his forces had captured 25 of Mexico's 37 most-wanted drug lords, a strategy backed by the U.S. government with hundreds of millions in funding and close cooperation with American law-enforcement, military and intelligence agencies.
Osorio Chong and Pena Nieto have promised to adjust Calderon's strategy in order to move away from that focus on leaders and toward a focus on reducing crimes against ordinary citizens, most importantly homicides, kidnappings and extortion.
Nearly three weeks into their administration, they have offered few details on how they will actually do that.