State of Tamaulipas – Five suspected gunmen died in a shootout with army troops at a ranch near the border between the northern Mexican states of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, military spokesmen said.
The shootout occurred Monday in an area near the U.S. border, where the Los Zetas cartel had taken over a ranch to train its gunmen.
Several drug cartels have been fighting for control of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states.
Los Zetas evicted the owner of the El Puerto ranch, located between the cities of General Bravo and Doctor Coss, turning the property into a training center for hitmen.
The gunmen opened fire on the soldiers as soon as they arrived at the ranch.
The troops returned fire, killing five suspected gunmen.
An undetermined number of gunmen managed to get away even though the army pursued them with support from two helicopters.
Soldiers found several rifles and an unspecified quantity of drugs at the ranch.
Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas 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, the capital of Nuevo Leon, 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 in late 2009 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.
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 for this year, as of mid-April, 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.
Some analysts, moreover, say the government has not targeted money laundering, allowing the cartels to retain the resources needed to fight back.