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Who's ahead: Calderon or Obama?
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Who's ahead: Calderon or Obama?

Mexican touts arrest of a Zetas leader as U.S. claims strides against al-Qaida

  • Felipe Calderón
    World Economic Forum/FlickrFelipe Calderón

Mexico's U.S.-trained marines nabbed one of the founders of the Zetas cartel on Monday, a valiant effort, to be sure.

But also one that underscores how badly this drug war is going. 

Raul Lucio Hernandez Lechuga, known as "El Lucky," was picked up in the state of Veracruz where the Zetas have been clashing with a proxy of their main foe, the Sinaloa cartel. 

The Mexican government counts this as a win. President Felipe Calderón, who leaves office in July and is eager to ensure his legacy isn't one of failure, tweeted the news. He has claimed that 22 of the 37 most-wanted drug lords have now been killed or captured.

Yet the violence doesn't seem to have declined. So what's going on?

The United States, meanwhile, is waging a similar, nebulous war against al-Qaida. Recently President Barack Obama said that the United States had killed or captured 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders.

The president, per NPR:

"Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaida leaders who've been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement. Or whoever's left out there. Ask them about that." 

Bragging aside, the United States has put a major dent in the terror network. Their capacity for large-scale attacks appears to be, for now, seriously diminished.

But the drug cartels have something the terrorists don't: money. 

Al-Qaida draws people, and funding, through their self-destructive ideology. The Arab Spring has brought new ideas that don't involve explosions, and a sense of hope and possibility that doesn't provide fertile ground for terrorism.

The cartels operate like massive corporations, with built-in deniability for their top brass, and extensive networks of employees. You can't eliminate them by killing off the chief executives. 

As long as there are billions to be made selling drugs, someone will find a way to do it. So the Whack-a-Mole continues. 

It's not surprising that the line of critics in Calderón's policy has grown larger over time, or that one of the leading opposition candidates in Mexico has promised to take the troops out of the battle entirely.

Even Calderón himself has talked about legalizing marijuana, at least, to curb drug-traffickers' profits. But that's a long way off. 

Meanwhile, the drug war drones on.

This article originally appeared on GlobalPost.

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