There's been a lot of talk about whether the killing of the three U.S. citizens in Ciudad Juarez represents a new phase in the drug war – whether it's a sign of Calderon having lost it or the cartels becoming bolder than ever, daring to attack the US for interfering.
It's certainly one development, but I actually think the blockades in Nuevo Leon last week are the more important one to watch.
The gangs were blocking major highways, which are usually patrolled (and controlled) by military presence. From my understanding, these blockades were not like the anti-army protests in various cities last year (which the government claimed were organized by the narcos.) These blockades shut down major transportation routes; more than 80 police officers were dismissed for allegedly being involved; Monterrey is a major commercial hub.
The cartels just proved that they might just be able to do to this country what the Colombian narcos did to theirs back in the 1980s – take control of major transportation thoroughfares and grind the economy to a halt.
So far in this drug war, Calderon has not been in the same position as his Colombian counterpart Alvaro Uribe, in that major roads in Mexico have remained under government control. When he took office back in 2002, Uribe's first goal was to secure the main roads – particularly the one between Bogota and Medellin. Once he did, the country's economy got back on track. But it took him a while, and he used a lot of force while he was at it.
Calderon does not want to be in a position whereby he has to reseize control of his country's roads.
On a side note, I wonder how much money the narcos lost by closing off what are also major transportation routes for their business. Must have been calculated; must have been deemed worth it.