Tracy Wilkinson and Ken Ellingwood
Los Angeles Times
August 7, 2010

  • A d v e r t i s e m e n t
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Reporting from Mexico City — Nearly four years after President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led crackdown against drug traffickers, the cartels are smuggling more narcotics into the United States, amassing bigger fortunes and extending their dominion at home with such savagery that swaths of Mexico are now in effect without authority.

The groups also are expanding their ambitions far beyond the drug trade, transforming themselves into broad criminal empires deeply involved in migrant smuggling, extortion, kidnapping and trafficking in contraband such as pirated DVDs.

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Undeterred by the 80,000 troops and federal police officers arrayed against them, gunmen frequently take on Mexican forces in the open. Operatives of one group, the Zetas, did so in northern Mexico this spring when they blockaded army garrisons. In June a group believed to be linked to another organization, La Familia, ambushed federal police in the western state of Michoacan, killing 12 officers in early morning light.

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