After Mexican President Felipe Calderon won a highly controversial election by a razor-thin margin in 2006, he kicked off his presidency by declaring war on his country's increasingly powerful and brutal drug cartels, deploying tens of thousands of troops across the country. Since Calderon's much-publicized crackdown began however, the death toll from drug violence in Mexico has exploded, claiming roughly 23,000 lives -- including cartel members, innocent civilians, police officers and soldiers -- with 4,000 of those deaths coming in the first five months of this year alone.
Over the past four years, Ciudad Juárez, a sprawling city of 1.3 million inhabitants that sits just across the border from El Paso, Texas, has suffered the most. With more than 2,700 drug-related murders in 2009 -- up from 1,600 in 2008 -- the city has become the murder capital of the world. And in 2010 the trend has continued, with "Murder City" adding almost 1,000 more to the growing list of the dead. But Ciudad Juárez is hardly a forgotten town in the anti-cartel effort. The bloodletting has occurred despite the presence of 11,000 troops and federal police that have taken over from the local police since 2007, showcasing the futility of taking a strictly military approach to combating the cartels.
Given this epic level of violence and the fact that an estimated 40 percent to 60 percent of the narcotics and marijuana smuggled into the United States -- including 90 percent of the cocaine -- enters across the U.S.-Mexico border, in October 2007, Calderon and then-President George W. Bush announced the Mérida Initiative. Beginning in FY2008 and lasting through FY2010, the $1.3 billion program is a blend of military, counternarcotics, and justice reform packages designed to help the Mexican government both combat the narco-gangs while simultaneously starting the process of reforming its famously corrupt and ineffective judicial and law enforcement agencies.