The Star, 6/22/2012

Heavily armed gunmen attacked a drug rehabilitation centre in the northwestern Mexico town of Torreón earlier this month, killing 11 patients, wounding nine others, and sending a powerful message.

It seems the assailants — members of either the Sinaloa drug cartel or a rival outfit known as Los Zetas — were worried that the men in rehab would squeal on them to Mexican authorities. So the goons took matters into their own hands, proving once again that, in Mexico, it’s just as dangerous to get out of the drug trade as it is to get in.

Meanwhile, in the colonial town of Zacatecas in central Mexico, three human heads were discovered in a fridge loaded into the bed of a Nissan pickup, with a warning message to another drug crew deposited in the cab.

Around the same time, a trio of corpses turned up near a shopping centre in the eastern port city of Veracruz — two male, one female. All three had been tortured and one had a threatening “narco-message” impaled upon his chest with a knife.

Three towns, three horrors — and business as usual in the Mexican drug wars.

“I do think it’s wearing down on the population,” says Maureen Meyer, a Mexico expert at the Washington Office on Latin America. “There is a degree of pessimism among Mexicans.”

As the country’s 114 million long-suffering citizens stumble toward presidential elections set for July 1, drug crime remains the issue uppermost in their minds — and no wonder.

In the six years since outgoing President Felipe Calderón launched his so-called “war on drugs,” at least 55,000 of his compatriots have perished in narcotics-related mayhem — and the toll just keeps rising.

Not all of Mexico is being held hostage to drug crime by any means. In fact, most of the country remains fairly well insulated from the violence. But swathes of Mexican territory are degenerating into gangster-run fiefdoms, particularly in the north, where police are being dragged ever further into complicity with the criminals.

As a result, you might have thought that organized crime and its related miseries would be front and centre in the political conversation as the candidates of Mexico’s three main parties battle their through the final weeks of campaigning, but it isn’t really so.

“None of them are talking about drugs or security-related issues,” says Eric Olson, associate director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “Why is that? There are not a lot of new things you can say.”