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Can Mexican cartels be defeated?

Analysis: The string of high-profile arrests of alleged drug kingpins won't end the drug war.

President Calderon appears to be using a similar strategy for Mexico: hammering the kingpins to reduce the power of the drug mafia.

Drug analysts call this cartel decapitation — or cutting the heads off so that the trafficking organizations fall apart into more manageable little chunks.

Calderon concedes that this tactic may mean more violence in the short term as rival gangsters fight to take over the routes of fallen villains.

Such turf battles are blamed for the majority of the 28,000 drug-related murders since Calderon took office in December 2006.

But in the long term, Calderon argues, the power of the government will prevail and violence will go down.

Residents who have watched daily executions and gun battles all hope that he is right.

But there are two factors in Mexico that signal the Colombian strategy may not ease the situation here.

The first is the sheer number of cartels.

In Colombia in the 1990s, there were two main trafficking organizations: the Medellin and Cali cartels.

In Mexico today, there are seven major drug gangs. All appear to maintain billion-dollar trafficking routes and hundreds of men at arms and to threaten the power of the government, at least on a local level.

For Mexico, to “decapitate” all these organizations, it would have to take down some 15 high-level gangsters in a relatively quick time.

Another problem is that several Mexican gangs have developed into cell-like organizations that depend less on kingpins and more on their brand name and structure.

Among these is the dreaded Los Zetas gang, which is blamed for the brutal massacre of 72 migrants last month. The quasi-religious La Familia is also organized along similar lines.

The Mexican and U.S. governments both promise other methods to aid the fight, such as reducing American demand for illegal drugs, slowing the flow of U.S. guns to the gangsters and rebuilding poor Mexican communities where mobsters flourish.

However, such promises have yet to be met by any results. Until they are, many more kingpins like Villareal are likely to be shown off in front of the cameras, while many more corpses scatter the Mexican streets.