Mexican President Felipe Calderon has declared war against various drug cartels around Mexico. The bloody confrontation between the Zetas against the Gulf cartel, which appears to be assisted by the Sinaloa cartel and La Familia Michoacana, is spilling blood all over the streets of northeastern Mexico. The victims of the massacre are primarily rival sicarios and in certain instances police officers and military personnel.
What is troubling is that too many innocent bystanders are getting killed when bullets find them when getting caught in the cross fire. What is more troubling is that in some cases, the innocent victims are getting shot by the armed forces that are supposed to protect them in the first place.
Some would argue that a huge militarization of forces deployed in the streets of Mexico with almost daily firefights is bound to produce collateral damage. But we have seen in certain cases a military that is bent on responding to the attack of sicarios almost in a blind, uncontrolled manner, where it almost appears that they kill anything that moves.
Consider that incident that occurred on March 19, 2010 at the prestigious Institute of Technology in Monterrey. Official statement from the Mexican Army and state government had mentioned that two gunmen were killed during a gunfight after they tried to evade the military. This would indicate that the people killed were running away. But the two people killed were not involved in any criminal activity, but were merely innocent students with excellent academic records at the institute.
They were Jorge Antonio Mercado Alonso, 23, studying a Masters degree and Javier Arredondo Verdugo, 24, studying a PhD. Monterrey Tech rector Rafael Rangel said in a news release that both students had scholarships for academic excellence.
If the rector had not corrected the official statement it would have stood that both victim were sicarios as initially reported by the military and state government. The main stream media also did not break the story other than a brief coverage of the press conference by the rector Rangel. We didn't hear anymore of it, other than a brief apology from one of the President's Secretary Cabinet members weeks later.
It is hard to believe that while the media having access to witnesses and personnel involved, they could not know that innocent people were killed and that the official statement was not credible. The reason we question this is because not long after several incidents we started to receive e-mails from people who were reporting that innocent people had been killed in some shootouts that were reported to the contrary by the military. The majority of reporting of these events has come from social media such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs.
The family of the victims and the people of Mexico have a right to know exactly how this happened.
Borderland Beat also reported on a shootout in Anahuac on March 6, 2010 where ten sicarios were reported killed. The military reported two separate confrontations between soldiers and sicarios in the town of Anahuac that left a toll of ten dead, eight of whom were sicarios and two were military. What we found rare was that one of the supposedly heavily armed sicarios was a woman.
A couple of days later we received anonymously some photographs of the alleged sicarios dead on the streets with weapons next to them. Upon close examination of the position of the bodies and the weapons, it just did not appear to be proper, while looking at it in a law enforcement perspective.
The weapons were still in the hands of the dead alleged sicarios and the placement of some of the weapons did not seem natural after engaging in a firefight. You can look at the pictures yourselves and be the judge, it’s so obvious that you don’t even have to be experienced law enforcement to know that things just don’t look right. Even a “common citizen” who e-mailed us noticed that on the pictures next to the woman and man, there were no spent casings.
Well it turns out that a male and female killed were in fact not sicarios but innocent bystanders. There was a brief coverage of a press conference by the mayor of Anahuac.
Two of the six people killed in a confrontation between sicarios and elements of the Mexican Army a few weeks ago at the town of Anahuac were innocent and had nothing to do with the shootout, said the mayor of the municipality, Santos Javier Garza.
The Mayor said that Rocío Elías Garza and Juan Carlos Peña who died in the incident had no link to organized crime and their unfortunate death was because they were caught in the middle of the confrontation.
"They were employees of the maquiladora and apparently were caught by surprise during the gunfire, but they had nothing to do with the acts," said the mayor.
So this is the same almost identical example from the two students killed in Monterrey, they were killed while either running or walking away and reported to be sicarios by the government until another person with “standing” spoke for them. It wasn’t like the media figured it out or anything.
What is troubling is that the two of the innocent victims had weapons placed next to them. The man in the middle of the street had what appeared to be an AK-47 not far from his hand and the female appeared to have a weapon underneath her. If they were not involved in the shooting, but were merely innocent bystanders running away, why were they photographed with weapons?
We are certain that we could find other examples where the military or police forces have killed innocent bystander in the name of the drug war and have attempted to cover it up or reported different to the willing media.
As the confrontations between heavily armed sicarios and Mexican military forces intensify in the populated areas of town and cities, the safety of innocent people must be paramount. If the military is going to incur collateral damage in fighting the sicarios, the Mexican people are no better off then when they are picked off by the drug cartels.
This is problematic for two reasons. One; when we see one of these instances occur, impunity usually always prevails. We see nothing done about it. No investigation, no correction in tactics, no retraining, no policy change, nothing. Second the media itself covers very little of the actual discrepancies after the fact. Why?
The answer might be that some news reporters have been found executed or threatened for snoopping around and some media outlets are afraid to ask too many questions. There has been reports for a while now that there is almost a news blackout in the northeastern part of Mexico. Granted a lot of reporters continue to attempt to report while risking their lives every day.
Recently a crew from Belo Television and a reporter for The Dallas Morning News were working in Reynosa. A stranger in jeans and a white and blue shirt approached the reporter and said: "You have no permission to report here. It's best you leave now."
The only entity, the media, that could make a difference in reshaping policy and assuring transparency for whatever reason are not reporting from an impartial standpoint. The Mexican government appears to have imposed a media blackout on coverage of cartel-on-cartel violence and operations in the Tamaulipas border region. Bits of coverage in the traditional Mexican media have misrepresented the degree of military involvement.
What is the U.S. responsibility?
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said it well during a recent visit to Mexico, "The grim truth is that these murders are part of a much larger cycle of violence and crime that have impacted communities on both sides of the border." The US tax payer is already forking out $1.6 billion in an aid package in the Merida Initiative to the Mexican government. Any pledge by the US for economic aid to help battle the cartels must have assurances from Mexico that part of the core strategy is grounded by strict accountability measures to ensure those funds are being used effectively and responsibly.
We should all support an aggressive front to stop the wave of violence and not allow the cartels to continue to control a whole nation, but at the same time, the Mexican government must do everything to protect its citizens from the cartels and the too often “friendly fire.” The military must know that they are in the middle of populated neighborhoods and they must possess the training and will power to exercise restrain and discipline in the heat of battle. The people who they are sworn to protect depend on it.