Mexico Rocked By Border Protests, May Be On Brink of Civil War

Demonstrations against the military presence in the border towns of Mexico have swept across the country over the last few days. Mexico's drug cartels have been the primary catalyst for a wave of crime and violence that have shaken the country to its core. Widespread corruption among the police led government officials to take the drastic step of sending 40,000 soldiers into towns and cities along the border of the United States.

The protesters, many carrying placards denouncing the military in their communities, are tapping into the widespread discontent that many Mexicanos feel about the the way President Felipe Calderon is handling the escalating drug wars. Brenda Contreras told the AP that her husband had been detained by soldiers three months prior and since then she has not heard from him, "Where he is, only the army knows," she said.

Human rights complaints against the soldiers have also risen dramatically since the patrols began about 2 years ago. But the government has little choice left in the matter. With pervasive corruption among police, government and public officials, President Felipe Calderon took steps to militarize border towns in an attempt to protect them from the violence, kidnappings and murders associated with the ongoing drug wars.

Robert Pastor, a Latin American national security adviser for President Jimmy Carter told CNN, "The grisly portrait of violence is unprecedented and horrific."

A few weeks ago, House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the situation in Mexico a civil war, and Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, agrees. "Of course it's a civil war, but that only touches the violence of it. It's also a civic conflict, as an increasing number of people look upon the law and democratic values as something that can be violated."

But Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy center, disagrees, "One has to be careful and not overdo it. Mexico is a long way from being a failed state. Mexico has real institutions. It paves roads and collects the garbage. It holds regular elections."

Hakim does however see the situation as dire, "I don't think there's any question that Mexico is going through a very rough time," he continued, "Not only is there violence with the gangs, but the entire population is very scared."