DAVID LUHNOW and JOSé DE CORDOBA
The Wall Street Journal
February 23, 2009

Monterrey, Mexico

Detective Ramon Jasso was heading to work in this bustling city a few days ago when an SUV pulled alongside and slowed ominously. Within seconds, gunmen fired 97 bullets at the 37-year-old policeman, killing him instantly.

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Mr. Jasso had been warned. The day before, someone called his cellphone and said he would be killed if he didn’t immediately release a young man who had been arrested for organizing a violent protest in support of the city’s drug gangs. The demonstrators were demanding that the Mexican army withdraw from the drug war. The protests have since spread from Monterrey — once a model of order and industry — to five other cities.

Much as Pakistan is fighting for survival against Islamic radicals, Mexico is waging a do-or-die battle with the world’s most powerful drug cartels. Last year, some 6,000 people died in drug-related violence here, more than twice the number killed the previous year. The dead included several dozen who were beheaded, a chilling echo of the scare tactics used by Islamic radicals. Mexican drug gangs even have an unofficial religion: They worship La Santa Muerte, a Mexican version of the Grim Reaper.

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