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As the death toll has climbed from drug-related violence in Mexico , it’s fallen largely to newspapers to keep the count.

Two weeks ago, a government report that legislators leaked spoke of 22,700 deaths over little more than a three-year period, a far higher body count than the 18,000 or so given by El Universal, a leading newspaper.

President Felipe Calderon’s aides won’t confirm the report, and some political analysts have seized on the lack of transparency as an element in the Mexican leader’s difficulties in rallying the nation in the campaign against heavily armed narcotics syndicates.

“It was not their intention to share this information,” said Elena Azaola , an investigator at the Center for Advanced Studies and Research in Social Anthropology in the capital, adding that it was symptomatic of tight handling of crucial data.

“There is a vacuum of important official information in very many areas,” she said. “And there’s also a lack of credibility. People speak as if there were censorship, a covering up of information.”

That might seem like an odd allegation, given that displays of more than two dozen different daily and weekly papers cover newspaper kiosks in the capital, but Azaola isn’t alone in criticizing the government’s tight hold on information. Other analysts said that suppressing the data hindered Mexicans’ ability to evaluate the Calderon administration.

“It asks for an act of faith from the public that its secret policies are correct,” said Edna Jaime , a political scientist at a policy institute, Mexico Evalua.

Source: Tim Johnson for McClatchy Newspapers.

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