Northeastern Border States - At least 20 people died in drug-related violence across Mexico, where an international border crossing was closed for several hours after gunmen attacked it, officials said.
Shootouts in the northern state of Nuevo Leon left at least 10 people, the majority of them suspected gunmen, dead.
The first shootout occurred at 4:35 a.m. Saturday in San Nicolas, a city in the Monterrey metropolitan area, leaving one gunman dead and another under arrest, the army said.
Soldiers and gunmen engaged in another shootout about two hours later in the city of Juarez, where five gunmen were killed.
A man was gunned down at 6:30 p.m. near a gas station in the city of Guadalupe by a hit squad that fired at him from a moving vehicle.
Soldiers engaged a group of gunmen a few minutes later at kilometer 117 of the Monterrey-Reynosa highway, leaving three criminals dead, military spokesmen said.
Criminals used stolen buses to block streets Saturday evening in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon, causing traffic jams and preventing the security forces from responding to attacks.
In neighboring Tamaulipas state, meanwhile, at least seven people died Saturday in shootings, an international border crossing was closed for several hours following an attack and two businesses were burned, officials said.
The most serious incidents occurred in the city of Camargo, where three bullet-riddled bodies were found, the Tamaulipas state information office, known as the CIO, said.
Gunmen opened fire Saturday morning on the customs office on the international crossing that links Camargo to Rio Grande, Texas.
The gunmen took security cameras, stole money from the office and damaged the facility, forcing officials to close the border crossing for several hours, a customs service spokesman said.
A shootout in the afternoon sent residents scrambling for safety in Camargo, where two stores were torched, the CIO said.
“The killings were reported afterward of four men, who died from gunshot wounds. These incidents occurred on the bypass of the Miguel Aleman-Los Guerra stretch,” the CIO said.
Nuevo Leon and neighboring Tamaulipas state have been rocked by a wave of violence unleashed by drug traffickers battling for control of smuggling routes into the United States.
The violence has intensified in the two border states since the appearance in Monterrey in February of giant banners heralding an alliance of the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia drug cartels against Los Zetas, a band of Mexican special forces deserters turned hired guns.
After several years as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
The cartels arrayed against Los Zetas blame the group’s involvement in kidnappings, armed robbery and extortion for discrediting “true drug traffickers” in the eyes of ordinary Mexicans willing to tolerate the illicit trade as long as the gangs stuck to their own unwritten rule against harming innocents.
At least 120 people have been murdered in Nuevo Leon, home to some of Mexico’s largest industrial corporations, since February.
Officials in the southern state of Guerrero said earlier in the weekend that three dismembered bodies were found in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco along with a threatening message from drug traffickers.
The unidentified human remains were found around 7:00 a.m. Saturday inside a house in Acapulco, Guerrero state police chief Valentin Diaz said.
The house belongs to Nicasio Arizmendi, a reputed drug trafficker, Diaz said.
The message warned that those who participate in incidents like a recent one in Acapulco, where a shootout between police and gunmen left six people dead, would end up the same way, the secretariat said.
The shootout on April 14 occurred on Miguel Aleman Avenue, one of the main streets in the Pacific resort city.
Pedestrians ran into hotels and shops to escape the shooting, while motorists tried to drive away, causing a 15-vehicle pile-up.
The shootout lasted about 10 minutes, eyewitnesses said.
Guerrero state has been the scene of a war in recent months between gunmen from the Beltran Leyva cartel and members of the Edgar Valdes Villarreal gang over control of the drug trade in the port.
Mexico has been plagued in recent years by drug-related violence blamed on powerful cartels.
The country’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations, according to experts, are the Sinaloa, Tijuana, Gulf, Juarez, Beltran Leyva and Los Zetas cartels, and La Familia Michoacana.
A classified report provided recently by the government to senators estimated 22,743 people have died since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in December 2006.
Press tallies had put the number of people killed in drug-related violence since Calderon took office at 18,000.
The classified report estimates the death toll so far this year at 2,904.
Calderon has deployed 50,000 soldiers and 20,000 federal police nationwide to combat drug cartels and other criminal organizations.
The anti-drug operation, however, has failed to put a dent in the violence due, according to experts, to drug cartels’ ability to buy off the police and even high-ranking officials.