Mexico's drug cartels still in action

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World. Heavily armed gunmen tried to assassinate a senior prosecutor in the Mexican state of Tabasco on the Gulf Coast. Four of his bodyguards were wounded, and a series of running gunfights left one bystander killed and many injured. This incident underscores the threat to law and order in Mexico. The government of President Felipe Calderon is fighting back. Most recently, it arrested 10 mayors from the Pacific Coast state of Michoacan for dealings with a drug cartel. The arrests are designed to show renewed determination to fight the drug war before July's mid-term elections in Mexico. From Mexico City, The World's Lorne Matalon reports.

LORNE MATALON: Adriano Franco is a senior aide to Mexico's Attorney General, Eduardo Medina Mora.

ADRIANO FRANCO: Corruption unfortunately has been found at all levels of government, not only at the municipal level, state level, but also at the federal level. We here at the Attorney-General's office, were faced with the prosecution of the former Deputy Attorney-General for Organized Crime, so we have to clean up the house and we have to do it today. We cannot wait.

MATALON: Felipe Calderon's administration isn't waiting. In Michoacan, soldiers have arrested 10 mayors and 17 others, including a judge and a former police chief who advises Michoacan's governor on drug crime in his state.

FEDERICO ESTEVEZ: The news cycle has been captured again basically by drug-related violence and the government response to it, and of course we're now fully into election season.

MATALON: At Mexico's Autonomous Technological Institute, political scientist Federico Estevez, says Calderon is reaping political benefit for the unprecedented magnitude of the campaign in Michoacan. He says Calderon's political enemies are reeling right now.

FEDERICO ESTEVEZ: When the opposition tries to criticize the government, you have this series of arrests of increasingly bigger and bigger figures within the drug trade, and some of their political allies who just so happen to belong to the major opposition parties.

MATALON: Eight of the 10 mayors arrested in Michoacan are members of opposition parties. Two mayors are from Calderon's own party. Their arrests are blunting criticism that the roundup in Michoacan is politically motivated, and there's evidence of more ties between law enforcement and the drug cartels � in this case the ultra-violent enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, known as Los Zetas. Amy Glover is a member of Mexico's Council on Foreign Relations.

AMY GLOVER: During the flu epidemic, there was perhaps a mirage that the drug war had somehow disappeared, when it fact it went on unabated. And now we're confronted with scandals related to a prison break by 53 prisoners apparently released by the Zetas organization.

MATALON: Glover's referring to an incident that has become a full-blown political scandal, tied directly to the drug war. In opposition-controlled Zacatecas State, 53 inmates led by 2 convicted Gulf Cartel members, were video taped leaving a prison while police and prison guards stood by idly. The State's governor says the guards were bought off. Many Mexicans believe the collusion between inmates and guards, evident on the video, is another example of the nexus between corrupt law enforcement and the cartels that the Calderon government is trying to break. For The World, I'm Lorne Matalon, in Mexico City.