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Can You Spell C-O-R-R-U-P-T-I-O-N? Mexico Must Deal With Corrupt System When Battling Drug Cartels

REYNOSA, Mexico — An army convoy on the hunt for traffickers rolled out of its base recently in this border town under the control of the Gulf Cartel — and an ominous voice crackled over a two-way radio frequency to announce just that.

The voice, belonging to a cartel spy, then broadcast the soldiers’ route through the city, turn by turn, using the same military language as the soldiers.

“They’re following us,” Col. Juan José Gómez, who was monitoring the transmission from the front seat of an olive-green pickup truck, said with a shrug.

The presence of the informers, some of them former soldiers, highlights a central paradox in Mexico’s ambitious and bloody assault on the drug cartels that have ravaged the country. The nation has launched a war, but it cannot fully rely on the very institutions — the police, customs, the courts, the prisons, even the relatively clean army — most needed to carry it out.

The cartels bring in billions of dollars more than the Mexican government spends to defeat them, and they spend their wealth to bolster their ranks with an untold number of politicians, judges, prison guards and police officers — so many police officers, in fact, that entire forces in cities across Mexico have been disbanded and rebuilt from scratch.

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