MEXICO CITY -- Nobody wanted the job of police chief in Nuevo Laredo, a city on the US-Mexico border plagued by drug gangs and violence. Finally, Alejandro Dominguez, 52, a businessman and father of three, volunteered to take the post to help his besieged city. Two weeks ago, hours after being sworn in, Dominguez was assassinated by men firing assault rifles from a convoy of sports utility vehicles.
Last week, federal troops and police took over the city of 300,000 as the death toll reached 50 in an escalating drug war, and US Ambassador Antonio Garza Jr. warned of a ''rapidly degenerating situation along the border." The entire local police force was ordered off the streets after city officers engaged in a gun battle with federal investigative police that left one federal officer seriously wounded.
The human cost of Mexico's aggressive war on drug trafficking is skyrocketing as the country suffers through the worst barrage of drug-related violence in years. More than 600 people have been killed this year, often in remarkably bold and bloody executions, according to national press tallies and state-by-state crime reports.
Mexican authorities last week disclosed for the first time that 90 soldiers have been killed in drug-related violence since President Vicente Fox took office in December 2000, vowing a ''war without mercy" on Mexico's drug cartels. In addition, at least 65 agents of the Federal Investigative Agency have been killed since it was formed in 2002.
Some died in confrontations with drug dealers on city streets; others crashed in helicopters after traffickers shot them down or disabled them by stringing heavy cables across narrow valleys where opium poppies and marijuana grow.
In a recent interview, Fox likened Mexico's ''explosion of organized crime killing" to the Al Capone era in Chicago. ''It took years to get rid of the mafias, it took years to get rid of organized crime," he said. Fox said US and Mexican authorities were working jointly to confront criminals who control ''millions and millions and millions of dollars."