Mexico City: President Felipe Calderon tried to rally frustrated Mexicans behind his increasingly bloody drug war on Thursday, saying he knows violence has surged under his watch, but arguing that it is the price of confronting powerful and brutal cartels.
Calderon delivered his annual state-of-the-nation address two days after his government brought down the third major kingpin in less than a year. But it also came less than two weeks after the massacre of 72 migrants near the US border, which laid bare how freely drug traffickers operate in pockets of the country, no matter how many capos are captured.
"I am well aware that over the past year, violence has worsened," Calderon said. "But we must battle on."
Calderon has struggled to maintain support for a fight that was hugely popular when he first deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police to drug-cartel strongholds across the country in late 2006.
Since then, gang violence has become more shocking, with beheaded bodies hung from bridges and police discovering pits filled with dozens of slain cartel victims. Gangs have employed warfare tactics previously unseen in Mexico, including car bombs and blockades in front of police stations and Army garrisons.
Soldiers kills 25 suspects
Underscoring the point, a shootout later Thursday between soldiers and suspected cartel gunmen in Tamaulipas state, near Texas, left 25 suspects dead.
The gunbattle began after an airborne patrol over Ciudad Mier spotted gunmen in front of a property. When troops moved in on the ground, suspected gang members opened fire. A military spokesman who was not authorised to be quoted by name said the property was a ranch controlled by the Zetas drug gang. No soldiers were killed, but two were injured.
A debate now rages in Mexico: Critics, especially Mexicans who live in the most violent cities, believe the government is losing control. Calderon and his supporters argue the violence is a sign drug gangs are reeling and fighting with each other as their bosses fall one by one.
"If we want a safe Mexico for the Mexicans of the future, we must take on the cost of achieving it today," Calderon said.
Calderon`s supporters include the US government, which backs his fight with millions of dollars in aid.
Although Mexico`s violence increasingly worries Washington — President Barack Obama sent more National Guard troops to the border last week, and the State Department pulled the children of American diplomats out of the northern city of Monterrey — US officials say they don`t believe drug cartels are growing stronger.
One of two known survivors of a drug gang`s massacre in northern Mexico of 72 undocumented Central and South American migrants urged others in an interview broadcast on Thursday not to attempt the journey to the United States.
Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, 18, also described being seized by gunmen after entering Mexico from Guatemala and then taken to a house where the migrants were tied up and kept overnight before being shot in the head.
"I`m telling everyone, Ecuadoreans, don`t make the journey any more because the Zetas are killing a lot of people," Lala said, referring to the drug gang that dominates parts of Tamaulipas state, where he was found last week.
Lala, who was wounded in the neck, wore a brace and part of his face was bandaged. His speech was laboured in the four-minute interview with state-run GamaTV.
"There are a lot of bad people who won`t let you through," he said in the edited interview, which was apparently recorded during his plane flight home from Mexico on Sunday.
He did not say why the migrants, who included Salvadorans, Hondurans, Guatemalans and a Brazilian, were killed.
Mexican authorities have speculated they refused to serve as couriers for illegal drugs, but Lala was not asked about a possible motive in the interview.