The months of January thru April 2010 have seen drug related violence in the Monterrey metropolitan area and the towns along the highways leading to Tamaulipas expand to levels resembling a conflict zone.
In Monterrey, incidents of extreme violence occur without warning on a daily basis. From the rich suburb of San Pedro, home to Nuevo Leon's business elites and one of the wealthiest municipalities in all Latin America, to the marginalized areas of extreme poverty such as Apodaca, Guadalupe and Juarez nobody is immune to the danger.
Some analysts state that the violence has overwhelmed the authorities.
If this crime wave is not arrested we may be seeing the emergence of a new “Juarez” , another murder capital with deeper implications for the economic well being of Mexico.
How did Monterrey, the industrial powerhouse of Mexico and a city many citizens declare has more in common with United States than the south of Mexico, reach this point?
On January 18, 2010 gunmen belonging to the Gulf cartel (CDG or cartel del golfo) assassinated “el Concord 3”, a top member of the “Zeta” criminal organization in Reynosa Tamaulipas.
The Zetas, composed of Mexican army special forces deserters, were originally the paramilitary arm of the Gulf Cartel drug trafficking organization but through their extremely ruthless and efficient nature had gained a degree of independence and had become drug traffickers themselves.
The Zetas gave the leaders of the CDG one week to turn in the executioner.
Friction between both groups had been building since 2007 when the leader of the CDG, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, was extradited to the U.S. and the Zetas began to separate from the cartel.
The CDG refused to deliver the gunmen responsible. The war between the cartels that has engulfed Monterrey and the state of Nuevo Leon had begun.
The rupture of the CDG - Zeta alliance led to what is known as the “re-alignment”. A new bloc (la Nueva Federacion) consisting of the CDG, the equally ruthless “la Familia Michoacana” and the powerful Sinaloa cartel was formed whose specific mission was to eliminate the rapidly expanding, dangerous Zetas.
The war between the cartels quickly plunged Tamaulipas, which borders Texas, into a state of anarchy. The bloodbath in Tamaulipas continues unabated to this day. Local and state law enforcement, largely co-opted by one or the other group, have been unable to control the violence and have even become victims themselves. The federal police and military have not fared much better.
The conflict between the Zetas and the opposing bloc, and of law enforcement and the military against both warring groups quickly spread south to the Nuevo Leon cities bordering Tamaulipas and into the heart of Monterrey itself.
In the division of drug trafficking routes by organized crime within Mexico, Monterrey and all of Nuevo Leon is considered Zeta and Beltran Leyva territory. The Zeta “plaza” (drug trafficking corridor or site) stretches from Honduras and Guatemala in Central America through the Yucatan Peninsula and inland to Monterrey and finally into the large and highly lucrative border city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, where thousands of cargo containers and rail cars cross daily into the U.S.
This drive by the opposing Nueva Federacion into Nuevo Leon and Monterrey has led to what many citizens of that area desperately call a state of war.
Since 2006 after the election of president Felipe Calderon the Mexican government has engaged the heavily armed drug cartels in a fight to re-impose state control over a significant area of its territory. At the same time the drug cartels are in a deadly struggle with each other over the control of highly lucrative “plazas”.
In order to combat the wave of drug violence the government has deployed close to 100,000 army troops and federal police throughout Mexico.
Almost 23,000 drug war deaths have occurred since President Calderon took office. Most of the dead have been members of organized crime but a significant percentage have been members of the military and law enforcement personnel or civilians caught in the cross fire during shootouts
2009 saw the capture of major cartel members overseeing operations for both the Zeta and Beltran Leyva organizations. Other cartels took advantage of this power vacuum to encroach into the Monterrey “plaza”. Drug war deaths from cartel on cartel violence began to expand.
In early 2010 the violent split between the CDG and Zeta cartel caused the violence in Nuevo Leon to grow exponentially. In January, 23 drug related murders were recorded. February accounted for 29 drug related deaths. March accounted for 73 drug related murders and April saw the number of executions grow to more than 100.
It would not be an overstatement to say that in early 2010 stability in Monterrey and the northern and eastern areas of Nuevo Leon disintegrated.
Growing cartel violence seriously undermines the public’s confidence in the ability of government institutions, including federal police forces and the military, to guarantee public safety.
“Narcomensajes” or cartel messages have increasingly appeared in the form of publicly displayed banners and mass e-mailings to spread propaganda and warn of impending violence. This form of psychological warfare has the effect of freezing civic life.
Widespread disruption in Monterrey and the affected areas of the state grew in March with the emergence of dozens of “narcobloqueos” where buses, cars and tractor trailers are commandeered at gunpoint and disabled across main highways and key city streets to block access for hours on end.
There have been numerous incidents where drug cartels set up roadblocks on the highways leading out of Monterrey for the purpose of engaging opposing cartels and the military in ambushes and shootouts. The municipalities of China, Los Ramones, Cerralvo, Anahuac and General Bravo have been the sites of these gunfights where the level of firepower resembles that seen in war zones.
These roadblocks also serve the purpose of hijacking late model SUV’s and full size pickups which are the preferred vehicles of the drug cartels. Any form of opposition by the public is usually fatal.
“Sicarios”, or drug cartel assassins, use brutal methods to intimidate their rivals, law enforcement and the public. These methods include the killing of family members, and the torture and dismemberment of rivals which are photographed and videotaped for public display.
Multiple victims of “sicario” executions are now a daily occurrence and the bodies are found in all parts of the city and the state. These include fatal attacks on municipal and state police officers who are usually targeted because of their collusion with particular drug cartels.
Corruption within the municipal and state law enforcement institutions remains a serious problem. Hundreds of police officers have been investigated for ties to the drug cartels and terminated from their positions, sometimes with generous severance packages. Dozens have been arrested and arraigned for actual membership in drug cartels. Entire municipal police forces have been disbanded and policing duties absorbed by the military and the federal police forces.
Recent incidents have magnified the helplessness of the citizenry and have reinforced the reality that not even the elite are immune from the violence
In the early morning hours of April 21 a group of up to 50 gunmen blockaded the thoroughfares leading to several high end hotels in Monterrey. The gunmen performed a room to room search of the establishments and abducted 4 guests registered as businessmen, including one female, and 3 hotel employees. The fate of the victims is unknown.
7 municipal policemen are under investigation for collusion and dereliction of duty. The municipal police reported to the scene of the abductions 50 minutes after the first alarms were raised.
A firefight between cartel gunmen and the military on March 19 outside of the Monterrey Technological University, considered to be Mexico’s M.I.T., resulted in the deaths of 2 engineering graduate students. It is widely believed that the students were killed by the military.
An investigation by Sedena, the national defense ministry, exonerating the military of culpability has been widely discredited as a coverup.
Earlier in the year in the municipality of Bustamante and earlier this week in the municipality of Higueras, Mexican marine forces have raided 2 encampments of the Zeta cartel. Hundreds of assault rifles and side arms, rpg launchers, grenade launchers, 50 cal. sniper rifles, fragmentation grenades, explosives and communications equipment and dozens of cartel vehicles were seized.
Combined with recent Zeta weapons seizures in Tamaulipas, the arsenal is big enough to arm a modern combat infantry battalion.
The Zeta drug cartel in Nuevo Leon shows no signs of having been affected in its fight for survival against the “Nueva Federacion”
Cause and Effect
The flourishing of the modern Mexican drug cartel is seen by some scholars as nothing more than the 21st century vehicle for wealth distribution in an unjust society.
Organized criminal networks have succeeded where Marxist guerrilla movements have failed.
Dr. Lylia Palacios, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon (UANL), warns that Monterrey is paying the price of social injustice and income inequality where 30% of the population lives in extreme poverty.
This situation mirrors the social conditions found in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s murder capitol.
In the more than a thousand gangs active in the marginalized colonias (poor neighborhoods) recruits are easily found to serve as “narcomenudistas” (lower level drug dealers), “halcones” (lookouts and workers) and “sicarios” (hitmen, assassins). These young people now have a powerful arsenal with which to claim their share of national wealth that has been denied by the economic policies of the past two decades, says the specialist.
“Now” says Dr Palacios “the violence touches Monterrey’s elites and impacts the local economy”. Due to the concentration of wealth, “Monterrey has become a polarized city”.
Home to important sectors of the national economy but also to a large impoverished population, “the city ends up being a center for investment, consumption and participation in the drug industry," says the researcher at the UANL.
Now, companies such as Alfa, one of the largest global economic concerns, FEMSA, second largest Coca-Cola bottler globally, and Cemex, third largest producer of cement in the world, share their territory with the new illegal economy which promotes the sale of drugs and money laundering.
"Rising crime rates linked to kidnappings and acts of violence is causing families to move to the United States." Said Dr. Palacios "Now even the elites are vulnerable."
Denise Dresser, a renowned Mexican intellectual, puts it this way “The drug war is a product of a war of longer duration in which the last generation of Mexicans has participated. It is the war for getting a good education, getting a good job, negotiating a reasonable line of credit, buying a car, joining the ranks of the middle class.”
“It is the war for promotion. The war of social mobility. A fight that Mexicans are not winning. In Mexico,the rich are still rich, the poor remain poor, and belonging to one or the other group remains largely hereditary. Mexicans ask, Why study? Why work?"