The Monterrey metropolitan area and almost all the State of Nuevo León are adrift in a sea of drug cartel violence.
However, this tragedy did not occur overnight.
For over 15 years, the capital of Nuevo Leon was the choice for drug lords to live with their families, principally in the quiet and comfortable suburb of San Pedro Garza Garcia, "the safest city in Mexico".
In the old days, executions occurred in the rural areas of Nuevo León and the bodies were found on remote roads and empty areas.
But since 2000, rival organized crime gangs have escalated their wars against each other, with the violence now occurring in broad daylight and engulfing the city and its population.
Monterrey now lives in a state of permanent terror and anxiety, something unheard of in the industrial capital of Mexico.
Chases, shootings, kidnappings, grenade attacks, extortions and roadway blockades are now a part of everyday urban life.
In recent weeks, the drug cartels have increasingly challenged the authorities. This past week, Edelmiro Cavazos, the mayor of Santiago, a tourist town 30 miles southeast of Monterrey was abducted and executed by gunmen and members of his own police force.
It is the first time that the drug cartels murder a mayor in office in Nuevo Leon.
The current bloody wave of violence is linked to the dispute being waged on the border between the rival Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, for control of drug trafficking routes into the U.S and the increasingly lucrative domestic drug consumption market and extortion rackets in Monterrey.
And now the presence of the ruthless “La Familia Michoacana” in the Monterrey area threatens to topple Nuevo Leon into a “failed state” status where the rule of law is only an illusion and its economic and financial power becomes a mere memory.
Last Friday, the Mexican army captured a La Familia armed group in a farm near Santiago, and also seized an arsenal. This group is being investigated in the abduction and murder of the mayor of Santiago.
Besides drug trafficking La Familia specializes in kidnapping for ransom in areas it has infiltrated, which is not good news for Monterrey’s wealthy citizens.
La Familia Michoacana and the Sinaloa Cartel formed an alliance of convenience, known as the Nueva Federacion, earlier this year with the Gulf Cartel in their bid to oust Los Zetas from control of drug trafficking on the Mexico-Texas border and in Nuevo Leon.
If this alliance is successful it may only be a matter of time before they turn on each other for sole control of the spoils of victory.
This cartel war has made 2010 the most violent year in the modern history of Nuevo León.
Nuevo Leon’s Forensic Medical Service has already recorded 420 executions linked to organized crime in 2010, a record that already doubled in just eight months the total number of homicides recorded in 2009.
It was in 2006 that organized crime began to exert its power more harshly and became more visible in Monterrey.
Gubernatorial elections were held in July of 2003 for a six year term and none of the candidates campaigned on the issue of security, but the situation changed dramatically after 2006.
The year began ominously for Nuevo Leon when on February 13, 2006, the chiefs of police of San Pedro Garza Garcia and Sabinas Hidalgo, a town 100 kilometers north of Monterrey on the highway to Nuevo Laredo, were murdered almost simultaneously.
Then on the night of September 5, 2006, Marcelo Garza y Garza, the highly regarded head of the Nuevo León State Investigation Agency (AEI) was executed outside of a cultural center in San Pedro Garza Garcia.
Garza's execution was a milestone because it carried a clear warning to the then Governor of Nuevo León, Natividad Gonzalez Paras, from the drug cartels..
A year before his death, on August 16, 2005, Garza and the AEI’s anti-kidnapping group captured 14 members of a criminal cell led by Jose Luis Carrizales Coronado, "El Tubi", an important Sinaloa Cartel assassin.
Skyrocketing executions and an international fiesta
The violence reached unprecedented levels in 2007 for the regiomontanos, as Monterrey’s residents are known. The year ended with 107 executions linked to organized crime, including 31 police officers, and 88 reports of people abducted and disappeared.
The situation of insecurity and violence that erupted in the state was the result of the territorial dispute that raged in the Tamaulipas-U.S. border between the invading Sinaloa Cartel, whose efforts were led by Edgar Valdez Villarreal “La Barbie” and the Gulf Cartel, the longtime rulers of drug trafficking in northeast Mexico.
The federal government intervened and sent more than 3000 soldiers and federal police as part of Operation Nuevo León.
That year, Governor Natividad Gonzalez Paras had other priorities.
Monterrey, at the initiative of Gonzalez Paras, won the privilege of hosting the Universal Forum of Cultures, an international event which lasted 90 days.
For the party, the city built the Paseo Santa Lucia, an urban waterway and “riverwalk”, and new cultural spaces, with a cost in the billions of dollars while shootings, executions and kidnappings multiplied dramatically.
According to military sources, the Governor did not allow the army to enter Monterrey so as not to damage the image of the event. The army was limited to patrolling the rural areas of Nuevo Leon.
In 2008, the Sinaloa Cartel’s plan to seize the Tamaulipas drug trafficking routes, in particular Nuevo Laredo, failed and their cells for the most part retreated to friendlier territories.
Los Zetas, now more powerful than ever and becoming increasingly independent from the Gulf Cartel, were left with full control of the Monterrey metropolitan area, with the exception of San Pedro Garza Garcia, which was operated by the Beltran Leyva brothers.
The number of executions in Nuevo León decreased in 2008 compared to 2007.
Los Zetas began to diversify their criminal empire and ventured into activities beyond drug trafficking.
They extended the extortion racket for the right to operate to owners of nightclubs, discos, table dance clubs and informal street trade and gained exclusive rights to all drug sales for local consumption.
Los Zetas began to charge fees to common criminals for the right to operate any illegal activities such as smuggling of foreign goods and the sale of pirated products.
However, soon extended its extortion to the formal economy and victimized many legitimate businesses. The kidnapping of innocent citizens for ransom multiplied.
But apart from organized crime, marauding gangs of youths grew and, spurred on by the inaction of the local authorities, also began to sow panic.
Another phenomenon was the arrival of the blackmails by phone which are largely perpetrated from within prisons and jails and which the majority of Mexican citizens have experienced.
The operational structure of organized criminal groups was strengthened with the infiltration of the municipal police forces, which were corrupted without much difficulty.
The decomposition of the municipal police became apparent on June 8, 2009.
About 100 policemen from the Apodaca, Escobedo, Guadalupe, San Nicolas and threatened federal agents, apparently in retaliation for the arrest of Aurora Aida Villarreal Laredo, alleged right arm of "Commander Colosio", the criminal underground boss of San Nicolas .
Municipal and state forces blocked roads with their vehicles and pointed their rifles at the federal police, who had arrived a week earlier as reinforcements. It is due to this incident that today the Monterrey area municipal police are only allowed to carry sidearms.
The words "polizetas" (police under the control of Los Zetas) and "narconómina" (drug cartel payroll) became part of the lexicon of Monterrey.
From October 15 to 22, 2008, organized crime launched an unprecedented offensive against the Mexican Armed Forces: 11 soldiers were beheaded and their bodies dumped in different places in Monterrey and Nuevo León.
The massacre is known to the military as Black October and is considered a landmark in the battle now being waged against the cartels.
The reaction by the Army was almost immediate and handed the first high-impact hits against the drug lords: Sigifredo Najera Talamantes, "El Canicón”, leader of the Zetas in Nuevo Leon, was captured on March 20, 2009 in Saltillo.
Authorities credited Nájera Talamantes the Army with the order to hunt down and kill soldiers and with the grenade attack at U.S. Consulate in October 2008.
Four days after the capture of the Zeta leader, Hector Huerta Rios “La Burra” was arrested on March 24, in San Pedro, considered the richest city in Mexico.Huerta Ríos was the chief operator of the Beltran Leyva cartel in Nuevo Leon.
In 2009, the year in Nuevo Leon held state elections, the military captured almost all the Zeta leaders who controlled the metropolitan municipalities.
A life sequestered
The regiomontanos seldom venture out at night and increasingly less during daylight. The nightlife is pretty much dead in the Old Town, the traditional area of nightclubs and discos.
Half-empty streets and restaurants that close their doors early for fear of insecurity describes today’s Monterrey.
The violence has led regiomontanos to change their habits. Many sold their SUV’s and luxury vehicles and use less ostentatious vehicles.
So far this year, according to statistics from the State Attorney General, 8,355 vehicles have been stolen, of which 28 %, or 2,344, were robbed with some type of violence.
Monterrey is the city with the highest rate of stolen vehicles nationwide in the last two years, according to insurance companies.
The traditional trips being made by residents of Monterrey to the Texas cities of McAllen and Laredo have also been restricted by shootings and kidnappings in highways and roads connecting Nuevo Leon to Tamaulipas.
Hundreds of wealthy regiomontanos have left the city to move to the U.S..
Realtors in Texas reported an increase in the purchase of homes by residents of Monterrey in San Antonio, Mission and McAllen.
"We will never return to Mexico," one woman told her family after deciding to emigrate after a kidnapping attempt against her husband.
Governor Medina and the ungovernable state
From October 4, 2009 when Governor Rodrigo Medina was sworn in, more disasters have happened in Nuevo Leon.
In just the beginning of his term, he faced the murder General Juan Arturo Esparza, head of police forces in the municipality of Garcia, about 20 miles west of Monterrey.
The death of two students from the Tec (Monterrey’s Techonological Institute), shot by the army who mistakenly identified them as gunmen in a clash between soldiers and drug traffickers, the blockades of roads, a narcofosa, (clandestine grave site) in the town of Juarez with more than 50 bodies and now the assassination of a mayor has internationally labeled the state as an unsafe place.
The popularity of the Governor has been destroyed by insecurity. In the last week, during a sporting event and then in the funeral of assassinated Mayor, Medina has been booed loudly by the public.
This week, representatives of private organizations and opposition parties resorted to the word "lawlessness" to explain the situation.
On 18 August, business associations including Caintra, Ccinlac and Coparmex and published a demand that President Felipe Calderon deploy the military to strengthen the rule of law and criticizing the slow response of state authorities.
From 2007 to date, in Nuevo Leon, nearly 100 policemen have been killed, including security secretaries and directors of municipal police.
The day of the funeral of the Mayor of Santiago, a politician voiced his concerns to another about the insecurity.
"The question is not what’s next, but who," he exclaimed.