Poll: Mexicans think cartels are winning drug war

MEXICO CITY — Mexicans are in a funk over their president, and a majority of them think that he's losing control of the country, an opinion poll released Tuesday found.

Six out of 10 Mexicans think that organized crime gangs are getting the upper hand in the war that President Felipe Calderon launched against drug trafficking when he came to office in late 2006, the poll by Demotecnia found.

The poll may augur a change in the country's approach to its huge drug-trafficking problem when a new administration takes over after elections next year.

Calderon, 48, is in the fifth and defining year of a six-year presidential term. His National Action Party is struggling to find a suitable candidate for the 2012 presidential elections — Mexico's presidents serve only one term — and Calderon recently suggested that the party should look outside its ranks for a candidate.

While the army-backed offensive that Calderon launched when he took office has disrupted drug gangs and netted a handful of drug barons, it's coincided with a rising death toll. Last year, 15,273 Mexicans were killed, a spike over the 9,600 killed a year earlier. In total, more than 35,000 people have died in drug violence since Calderon took office.

In a telephone poll of 500 Mexicans conducted Saturday, Demotecnia found that 59 percent of respondents said the country was as bad off as or worse off than it was when Calderon took office.

Asked who's gaining the upper hand in the war against narcotics cartels, 59 percent also said drug traffickers were winning, the Mexico City polling firm said.

In another question, respondents were asked whether Calderon had a firm grip on the reins of the country or matters were falling out of his control. Sixty-seven percent picked the latter option.

Demotecnia director Maria de las Heras said the poll reflected frustrations over Calderon's policies on organized crime.

"The drug war has not worked out well, according to the poll," De las Heras said in a telephone interview. "He has put all his political capital into this, and the perception at least, maybe not the reality, is that it is going very badly. The majority of people are not satisfied."

Even President Barack Obama has been drawn into Calderon's woes. On March 19, he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted the resignation of U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual, whom Calderon had publicly flayed over leaked diplomatic cables that questioned whether Mexico's strategy on the cartels was working.

Obama, on a stop in nearby El Salvador on March 22, told CNN en Espanol that U.S.-Mexican cooperation was "very robust and very effective."

But he added: "The challenge is that the drug cartels have gotten stronger and President Calderon rightly feels frustrated."

De las Heras said part of the gloom among Mexicans was that few better strategies were apparent.

"The sense is that we're in a tunnel where it is hard to see the other side," she said.


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