El Diario de Coahuila
In Tamaulipas, violence consumes everyone. Terror paralyzes the authorities, businessmen, politicians and all its citizens. The war between the Gulf Cartel and its rival Los Zetas has the border state on the verge of collapse.
REYNOSA, Tamaulipas .- The news of the murder of 72 Central and South American migrants on a ranch in the municipality of San Fernando, which appeared on Tuesday, August 24, shocked the world, but not Tamaulipas. The locals say that this case is not even 10% of what happens in the state and is covered up by the authorities.
Diverse sources, who opted for anonymity, agree that in the seven months since the Gulf cartel (CDG), in partnership with "La Familia Michoacana" and the Sinaloa cartel, declared war on his former allies: "Los Zetas”, the terror has now reached all social sectors and the majority of municipalities in this state.
In Tamaulipas, extreme discretion is the only lifesaving option. In one way or another journalists, politicians, government officials and ordinary citizens try to hide in plain sight. One of the anonymous politicians interviewed for this story said: "If before it was dangerous to talk, now it is impossible to do, you are playing with your life. We've all been victims of violence or have a friend, relative or neighbor who has been. For the most part we take it in silence since it is impossible to denounce the offender. We fear both the police and drug traffickers equally."
In Reynosa shootings and “narco” blockades are daily occurrences. Skirmishes between rival criminal groups, and involving the Army and Marines, occur in the most central locations and during business hours. Mass executions, prisoner escapes and attacks on police headquarters or the media have become part of every day life. Now terrorism has been ushered in with the explosion of car bombs.
Between August 27 and 29, criminal groups executed seven bomb attacks, two car bombs at the facilities of Televisa and a police building in Ciudad Victoria, three bombs in public places near the international bridge in Reynosa, one more against police offices in Tampico, and a grenade thrown at the Naval base at Matamoros.
The war between the two rival criminal groups is wearing down both opponents. Each requires ever more money, food, vehicles and fuel to continue fighting. The casualties are high, and each side needs new fighters to replace the fallen and continue the conflict. What is most worrying, say anonymous sources, "This is already out of control and civilians are paying the consequences.”
Despite growing violence, state officials refuse to discuss the problem. Public Security Secretary, Ives Soberon, and the Tamaulipas Attorney General, Jaime Rodriguez Inurrigarro, have not held a press conference since the assassination of the PRI candidate for governor, Rodolfo Torre Cantú, which occurred last June 28.
Before this year the violence was at the level of to two or three incidents a week throughout the state, but since February 2010 the shootings, executions, kidnappings and attacks happen every day in Tampico, Altamira, Cd Madero, Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, Valle Hermoso, Rio Bravo, Ciudad Victoria, Cd Mante, Reynosa, the border “Frontera Chica” municipalities and rural areas of the state, says a local businessman. And he adds that after the murder of Torre Cantú the warfare between the groups has spiraled upwards.
Today, Tamaulipas citizens find out what is happening in their cities and towns through social network sites that launch exchange data and warnings when they find out that there is a confrontation. Sometimes they panic when they read a message about curfews or rumors about threats to kill school children, although the information is usually false.
When a local newspaper does publish a story on the violence it is usually ordered by one of the warring factions to discredit a rival or to discredit the Army or Marines.
Subsidiaries of Televisa in Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros and Ciudad Victoria have been under attack in the last month. The most recent was a car bomb in Ciudad Victoria immediately after the 72 murdered immigrants were discovered.
And as freedom of information has been restricted for several years, free transit across the state has been disrupted in recent months. Now, for example, criminals place roadblocks on the roads and highways to rob or steal vehicles from their drivers. Rapes of women are also occurring in these roadblocks. The schedules and travel of Tamaulipas citizens is increasingly limited.
The lawlessness reaches even high state government officials. Undersecretary of Education, Bladimir Martinez, and Secretary of Agricultural Development, Víctor de León Ortiz, were stripped of their official vehicles by criminals.
They even took De Leon’s leather boots. (Hours later De Leon’s boots and vehicles were returned as a courtesy by the criminals).
Impact on the economy
The instability also affects the economy in Tamaulipas.
Some businesses went bankrupt because the uncertainty has aggravated the economic crisis in many areas, while others preferred to shut down because of the heavy burden of the extortions imposed on them by criminal groups to assure security.
The extortion also reaches farmers and ranchers when thugs hear that they generate revenues by selling herds or raising crops.
Combine harvester owners from Guanajuato and Jalisco who always provided their services refused to service the Tamaulipas sorghum crop this year. They said they were unwilling to pay the high extortion fees that are required for each of their machines to work.
In Reynosa, the Maquiladora Association moved its offices to McAllen, Texas.
In Tampico, the industrial conglomerate Grupo Alfa threatened to close its production plants and leave the area due to the growing wave of abductions of businessmen.
That happened after one of the directors of the company, Carlos Flores, was taken from his home with his wife and son on Wednesday, August 11 of this year.
The former PAN mayor of Tampico, Arturo Elizondo, owner of the convenience store chain Arteli, was kidnapped two days after the elections of July 4. He stayed a week in captivity and gained his freedom upon payment of 30 million pesos.
Today, Arturo Elizondo and his family live in the United States, as do dozens of prominent businessmen in the region.
Another former mayor of Tampico, Fernando Lopez Azcarraga, a cousin of the owner of Televisa, Emilio Azcarraga Jean, was abducted on Thursday, September 2.
His whereabouts are still unknown.
Search for resources
However, the warring factions are no longer selective in who they kidnap as thousands of poor, undocumented migrants are deprived of their freedom for relatively meager ransoms which many families can’t pay.
The reason is simple. Organized crime must constantly replenish their resources to finance their war.
In San Fernando, where the bodies of the 72 illegal migrants from Central and South America were found, there have been 20 kidnappings of local residents in recent weeks. A number of the victims held for ransom, others were forced to join the ranks of organized crime.
One farmer reports that in April an armed group stripped him of his property. "There are many other farms and ranches like mine" he says.
These properties are used as barracks or training camps, and also to hide the victims of kidnappings or executions. Such was the case of the hunting ranch between Mier and General Trevino, where an army operation last Thursday resulted in the deaths of 28 criminals.
Gas station owners also complain that caravans of up to 10 to 50 vehicles drive to their establishments to fill their tanks, but the drivers never pay for the fuel. The losses are great, they say.
In recent weeks a pamphlet has been circulating in the northern citrus growing area of the state that calls on the inhabitants to revolt and take the law into their own hands. The Secretary General of state Government, Hugo Andrés Araujo, said only that authorities were aware of the document.
The forced recruitment of undocumented migrants, including the situation that led to the execution of the 72 men and women in the municipality of San Fernando, is noting new for the locals.
Nor are they surprised about the death toll. Residents argue that this is not the first slaughter of its kind that occurs in that area. "If you knew this time, it was because some of the victims survived,” they say. “The criminal groups are becoming desperate to acquire gunmen and continue their war.”
At least four times criminal gangs have entered the prisons of Reynosa and Matamoros and rescued prisoners, to date a total of 91 prisoners, in order to replenish their organizations. In the last incident, a school bus was driven into the prison in Matamoros and with weapons in hand the attackers forced prisoners to climb in.
The vacuum of authority is disgraceful. "Today more than ever, mayors and state and municipal officials are increasingly desperate to have their terms ended because they are suffering constant threats from both sides and still have to wait until January to hand over office," says a federal deputy.
The fear among public servants increased with the recent execution of the mayor of Hidalgo, Marco Antonio Leal García, which occurred on August 29.
There are cases such as the mayor of Tampico, Inguanzo Oscar Perez, who disappeared from public view for a month, the mayor of Camargo, José Correa, who took refuge in the United States for a few months after drug traffickers burned his home and office, and the PAN mayor of the Municipality of Mendez, who closed the town hall a month ago after an armed group shot up the building, whose facade has more than a thousand impacts.
The mayor of the town of Abasolo, Luis Ortiz Jaramillo, was abducted on Sunday, August 15, and released two days later. Several days before, the last five uniformed municipal policemen were executed.
Miranda Amarante Morato, director of the state of Tamaulipas ministerial police, has lived in the United States since March.
The "lost dead"
In Tamaulipas it is common that the authorities withhold information concerning the operation of the drug cartels or the deaths of government officials.
The most recent case is the state police investigator Roberto Suarez, who disappeared along with another officer when he returned to San Fernando after viewing the location of the 72 bodies of the murdered illegal migrants.
On August 26 at noon,officers with the state police reported that the bodies of Suarez and another person had been located on the highway that connects San Fernando with the town of Mendez.
The officials said they had no doubt, for they knew Suarez. And when the family went to identify the body they were told the body had been "lost."
Officials with the state Attorney General’s office said the men were "disappeared” and denied that the bodies had been located.