Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has decided to use military power to restore law and order in Tamaulipas. For years, the northeastern state has been experiencing a wave of drug-related violence and turf wars between various cartels. Hundreds of people have died. The escalating chaos seemed to threaten the federal government’s authority in the region. In order to halt the growing violence, Peña Nieto has ordered a large deployment to provide security for Tamaulipas’ three million residents.
According to Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong, the government will divide the state into four zones and put each under a special command team that will include military and navy personnel. This operation has three objectives: dismantle the criminal organizations with the aid of intelligence; cut off the roads used for human, drugs, weapons and money trafficking; and create a dependable security structure. The highways, which have been unnavigable for years after the cartels started blocking them, “will now be patrolled 24/7.” The government will also increase security at ports, airports and customs offices.
The operation includes disbanding more than 40 currently active police corps in Tamaulipas, due to the authorities’ fear the cartels have infiltrated them. This purge comes with the creation of a training center for new agents with “better salaries and benefits.” Minister Osorio Chong said the State Attorney General’s Office will also undergo “a complete purge.” The Mexican Attorney General will open four special regional offices to replace it.
According to Osorio Chong, the government will also intervene in the three states that share a border with Tamaulipas to avoid the “cockroach effect”: drug lords fleeing and taking refuge in other regions once the military has complete control of the state.
This intervention comes just as the situation is threatening to tarnish Peña Nieto’s accomplishments in the fight against drug trafficking. His 18-month presidency has seen the fall of legendary drug lords such as Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and Miguel Ángel “Z-40” Treviño.
The narrative regarding this war has changed, having turned away from the lofty style of former president Felipe Calderón. This administration is investing ever more resources in intelligence services instead of using brute force. Still, Tamaulipas has made little progress.
Thirty percent of the foreign trade that comes into or leaves the country passes through the Tamaulipas-Texas border. The state is also an important corridor for drug and gun trafficking. It is no surprise that it was the birthplace of two of the most violent cartels in Mexico. The Zetas and the Gulf Cartel have been fighting over the highways in Tamaulipas for four years.
Kidnappings and extortion. Protection quotas to open a business or to sell merchandise. United Nations organizations hardly ever come to this area. The local press avoids reporting on crime and even the most powerful politicians, such as Rodolfo Torre Cantú find themselves in the line of fire. Cantú was the last Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate for governor in Tamaulipas. He was shot and killed while driving down a highway during the electoral campaign.
Protests are rare in this environment. Only the brave would dare. Last Sunday, an unusual thing happened. About 4,000 people took to the streets to ask for an end to the reign of terror. Dressed in white and shouting “peace comes first,” the protestors defied the cartels.
This nascent citizen movement is another incentive for the military deployment. The federal government wants to avoid another uprising of self-defense groups, like in Michoacán. But, as some experts say, sending armed officers is not a cure-all. It has been done before. “The problem is the frailty of the regional institutions,” says Alejandro Hope, an expert on security. “There is security only when the federal government intervenes. The operations lead to a drop in crimes and drug lords move out. But, when peace returns, the federal agents leave and crime goes up. And, the cycle starts over.”
The task of the Mexican government is to break this vicious cycle. The operation has raised high hopes in Tamaulipas and in the rest of the country. Another battle – or maybe it is the same, constant battle – has begun.
Translation: Dyane Jean François