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Violence threatens Mexico's soul

Opinion: Hillary should know it's not just about the drugs.

MEXICO CITY — In the Chapultepec hills, where moneyed Mexicans once protected their assets with little more than broken bottles atop garden walls, the mood can get downright Baghdad.

At one condo complex, I approached a mirrored-glass guard post by massive steel portals and coils of barbed wire. “This place is hermetically sealed,” a disembodied voice told me. When I asked what that meant, the voice added: “Beat it!”

The Mexico I knew as a school kid and have watched with passionate admiration ever since is in very deep trouble.

With its ancient roots and sophisticated culture, Mexico is hardly a failed state. But its discordant law enforcement agencies, some badly corrupted and others cowed, are overwhelmed.

Crime pays, and police work doesn’t. That part is nothing new here. But the nature of crime is different now, on a far grander scale, with alarming implications.

Rich Mexicans fear not only the increasingly destitute but also organized gangs. And as drug syndicates pile up billions in profits, the poor are victims, too.

In the northern state of Durango, villagers in San Angel made their own gated community, straight out of the Magnificent Seven: a deep trench around their adobe homes and bean fields.

Villagers said the army suggested the moat; troops were busy elsewhere. It did not stop a raid reminscent of the brutal tactics of the janjaweed in Darfur that carried off men who had urged police to arrest local drug lords.

Hillary Clinton, on a two-day visit, owned up to America’s part of the blame with what she called an insatiable demand for drugs and an inability to stem a tide of arms headed south.

Clinton promised more U.S. money and manpower to help President Felipe Calderon battle drug cartels whose free-for-all warfare kills by the thousands, turning border cities into combat zones.

But this is a crisis Mexico must own, the result of past complacency and complicity. Only deep structural approaches can blunt it: cleaner cops, better courts, a fairer shake for all.