New government, old problems

The continuing stream of bad and bloody news presents a challenge for President Enrique Pe__a Nieto, who took offi...
The continuing stream of bad and bloody news presents a challenge for President Enrique Pe__a Nieto, who took office Dec. 1 and is hoping to shift the world_s attention away from Mexico_s scourge of violence to focus more on the country_s growing economy.

In January, according to the federal government, the country witnessed 1,104 homicides linked to organized crime. The newspaper Reforma notes that 1,808 such slayings have taken place since Pe__a Nieto_s swearing-in. In some states, fed-up locals have donned ski masks and taken up arms; these _self protection_ groups have taken it upon themselves to round up suspected criminals, set up roadblocks and enforce curfews.

For the time being, many Mexicans appear willing to give the new administration time to solve what they consider the country_s No. 1 problem. In a poll of 1,000 adults conducted this month by the Mexico City newspaper El Universal, 56% of respondents said they approved of Pe__a Nieto_s job thus far.

Respondents also ranked _insecurity and crime_ as the most urgent issue facing the country, ahead of unemployment and poverty.

Mexico_s previous president, Felipe Calderon, deployed the army to crack down aggressively on the country_s criminal cartels beginning in December 2006, resulting in an estimated 70,000 deaths. Pe__a Nieto_s government plans to keep the military in the streets for the time being, but it intends to create a national paramilitary _gendarmerie_ to eventually take over. In addition, new federal police units will focus exclusively on the widespread practices of extortion and kidnapping.

The Nuevo Laredo police chief, Roberto Alejandro Balmori Garza, disappeared Sunday, the same day that his two brothers turned up dead, according to news reports. The state attorney general has launched an investigation to find him.

Nuevo Laredo -- set across the Rio Grande from a lonely stretch of southeastern Texas -- has been a cartel battleground for years. Two police chiefs there have been slain since 2005.

The explosions occurred Tuesday evening in Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas state, of which Nuevo Laredo is a part. The state attorney general said the explosive devices were thrown from a car. Three men were injured, though not seriously. In a prepared statement, Tamaulipas Gov. Egidio Torre Cantu implied that the attacks came from organized criminals and were _merely reactions_ to the crackdown efforts of state and federal authorities.________

In the city of Gomez Palacio, in the northwestern state of Durango, Mayor Rocio Rebollo Mendoza told reporters she didn_t know why her house had been shot up this month, or why four of her family_s businesses were burned Monday. She said she hadn_t received threats or warnings from anyone.

By the LATimes

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