The state of Tamaulipas, in northeastern Mexico, has been a bloody battleground for years. In the last month alone, 80 people have lost their lives in a series of gunfights in all the main cities of a state that is located on the border with Texas and serves as a crossing point for 30 percent of Mexico’s trade.
The administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which is already busy trying to pacify Michoacán and Mexico states, is now putting the finishing touches on a operation to bring law and order to an area that has been defenseless since at least 2005.
The secretary of the interior, Miguel Osorio Chong, was scheduled to visit the border town of Reynosa on Tuesday to meet with military leaders and Tamaulipas governor Egidio Torre Cantú, who ran for office when his brother Rodolfo was assassinated in June 2010.
In the afternoon, Osorio will provide details about the deployment in an area that is already being patrolled by 200 members of the navy and the federal police.
The area is already patrolled by 200 members of the navy and the federal police
In the 18 months since the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) came to power, drug cartels in the area have been dealt several major blows. Miguel Ángel “Z-40” Treviño, one of the leaders of Los Zetas, was arrested in July 2013. And 23 out of the 69 drug traffickers detained last year belonged to this cartel. Meanwhile the head of the Gulf Cartel (CDG), Jesús “Metro 24” Leal, was arrested last month.
Yet the detentions have yielded more newspaper headlines than actual results, if peace and quiet are the standards to gauge them by.
In fact, the beheadings have led to internal power struggles within both drug rings, which have taken their fight out on to the streets. Between April 5 and 8, just a few days after Metro 24’s arrest, the city of Tampico recorded several shootouts that together resulted in 28 deaths.
Then, on Friday, there was another showdown in Reynosa, where federal forces had located Galdino Mellado, one of the founders of Los Zetas. Soldiers positioned outside the house where he was hiding out were attacked with fragmentation grenades and high-caliber weapons, according to the government’s security commissioner, Monte Alejandro Rubido. The ensuing gun battle lasted two hours after a group of armed civilians joined in to defend the drug kingpin.
The alleged criminals then fled the city, leaving chaos in their wake in the form of a series of road blocks often seen in this part of the country: the fugitives force drivers of buses or trucks to get out of their vehicles, which are then set on fire, bringing traffic to a halt and slowing down their pursuers. On this occasion, three main thoroughfares were cut off by these so-called “narco-blocks.”
Between April 5 and 8, the city of Tampico recorded several shootouts that resulted in 28 deaths
Monte Alejandro Rubido said that a body was found inside the house, and that a comparison of his fingerprints with Galdino Mellado’s military file yielded a “positive identification.” Mellado had been one of 28 members of an elite military group who dropped out of the army between 1997 and 1999 to become the armed wing of the CDG, which has controlled the drug routes to the United States in eastern Mexico since the mid-1990s.
Los Zetas split from the CDG in 2010, triggering a bloody war over control of the main cities in northern Mexico. Gun battles in broad daylight broke out in the border town of Nuevo Laredo in 2005. Since then, they have extended to all the main cities in Tamaulipas, where they are a regular occurrence.
Even so, little is known about the real situation in Tamaulipas. The local media gave up reporting on it years ago after receiving death threats from the criminals. Silence is the rule. Even though the homicide rate is lower than in Michoacán or Mexico state, Tamaulipas has been the scene of some of the cruelest incidents on record. In 2010, the bodies of 72 migrants were found inside an estate in San Fernando. The criminals were fighting over control of the city, which is a major stop for border transients. The gunmen stopped all incoming buses and forced the men out, shooting them on the spot if they felt that they were reinforcements for the rival gang. Thirteen months later, 47 mass graves containing 193 bodies were found in ranches that the drug lords had seized from local cattlemen.
Despite the shortage of information, official figures suggest a rising crime rate. Tamaulipas led the state list for kidnappings in 2013, with 211 cases (a 75 percent rise from 2012) and made the top five for extortion.
In the middle of all this violence, there is one positive note. On Sunday, at least 4,000 citizens shed their fear to publicly protest the widespread insecurity. Now they await the government’s reply.