Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has compared the worsening drug violence in Mexico to Colombia of the 1980s and 90s, when cartels challenged the state police and military for control of whole swathes of the South American nation. "It's looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago," Clinton said of Mexico in comments on Wednesday, comparing the cartels to an insurgency. "It got to the point where more than a third of the country, nearly 40% of the country at one time or another was controlled by the insurgents." Journalists and experts are evaluating this claim, which Mexican officials have unsurprisingly rejected. Is Mexico really as bad as rock-bottom Colombia? If so, what are the implications?

  • Surprising New Approach for U.S. on Mexico  The Chicago Tribune explains, "[Clinton's] comments reflected a striking shift in the public comments of the Obama administration, which has avoided portraying the drug fight in provocative terms. As recently as last week, a senior State Department official staunchly denied that the drug war could be accurately described as an insurgency. ... Senior U.S. officials have grown increasingly alarmed in recent months at the expanding power and influence of the cartels, which now dominate vast swaths of the country through violence that includes assassinations, beheadings and car bombings."
  • Cartels a Threat to the State  The BBC's Ignacio de los Reyes writes, "Both Mexico and Colombia have indeed had to tackle the threat posed by drug-trafficking to the institutions of state, analysts say. ... Since President Calderon launched his fight against the drug gangs in December 2006, it is estimated more than 28,000 people have died in Mexico. The main point both countries have in common, according to [former head of the Mexican government's organised crime unit and UN adviser] Gonzalez Ruiz, is that 'the State is weak, allowing organised and extremely violent criminal gangs to emerge', which in turn pose a threat to political and social structures."
  • Exerting Control over Mexico's Largest Industry: Oil & Gas  The L.A. Times' Tracy Wilkinson recently reported that the cartels have begun targeting the oil and gas industry at the heart of what's left of Mexico's economy, "robbing the Mexican treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Now the cartels have taken sabotage to a new level: They've hobbled key operations in parts of the Burgos Basin, home to Mexico's biggest natural gas fields. ... The capacity of the traffickers to exert influence over a company as mighty as Pemex only solidifies the widely held perception that the cartels are growing in size and strength despite the government's crackdown."
  • U.S. Struggling to Aid Mexico  The Washington Independent's Elise Foley writes, "Clinton’s statements affirmed the administration’s commitment to aiding Mexico in its fight against the drug cartels — the question is how. Clinton argued the U.S. should work with Mexico and Central American countries on a program like the one that helped Colombia’s government regain control from militants. It’s a tricky balance to determine the right way forward, because the nationalistic Mexican government is wary of more active support from the U.S. ... Among the U.S. population, concern about violence in Mexico has so far largely focused on fear of spillover violence in the U.S. But putting up border fences and increasing patrol will not solve the drug cartel problem in Mexico, experts have said, and the U.S. has some responsibility because its citizens purchase many of the drugs that allow cartels to thrive."
  • We Can Save Mexico Like We Saved Colombia  Former U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Robert Bonner explained in Foreign Affairs how the U.S. helped Colombia to overcome the narco-insurgencies that nearly destroyed it in the 1980s and 90s and lays out how we can reproduce those efforts in Mexico today. "Destroying the drug cartels is not an impossible task. Two decades ago, Colombia was faced with a similar -- and in many ways more daunting -- struggle. In the early 1990s, many Colombians, including police officers, judges, presidential candidates, and journalists, were assassinated by the most powerful and fearsome drug-trafficking organizations the world has ever seen: the Cali and Medellín cartels. Yet within a decade, the Colombian government defeated them, with Washington's help. The United States played a vital role in supporting the Colombian government, and it should do the same for Mexico."