Almost 3,000 members of the Army, Marines and Federal Police reinforced military operations in the Tamaulipas municipalities of Nuevo Guerrero, Ciudad Mier, Miguel Aleman, Camargo and Diaz Ordaz in an attempt to stem the spiraling violence and the growing exodus of residents as rival bands of heavily armed criminals contest that area of the Texas Mexico border.
Troops have been arriving since Saturday on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, where the conflict between Los Zetas and the Gulf cartel has provoked armed clashes, extortion, kidnappings, theft, false roadblocks and "expropriation" of land for use as safe houses and strong points.
The violence and insecurity in the region known as “la frontera chica”, the narrow northern stretch of Tamaulipas between the large urban areas of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, has been rampant since the beginning of this year with hundreds of deaths and disappearances since Los Zetas split off from the Gulf cartel.
The situation has worsened dramatically since the death of a top Gulf cartel leader, Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen aka “Tony Tormenta”, at the hands of Mexican Marines in the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas on November 5th. Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, is a stronghold and traditional home of the Gulf cartel.
This is the first time in Tamaulipas that there is a mass exodus of citizens due to drug cartel violence. A refugee shelter was opened in the municipality of Miguel Aleman to receive the victims forced from their homes, primarily from Nuevo Guerrero and Ciudad Mier.
The prize being fought for is the drug and human smuggling route into the sparsely populated area of Zapata and Starr counties in South Texas.
An unnamed military commander interviewed via telephone by the Reforma newspaper disclosed that the operations began with 1,200 personnel on Friday and by Sunday will continue with more than 3,000 troops and federal police.
"The first objective is to send reconnaissance patrols into the affected municipalities of Guerrero, Ciudad Mier, Miguel Aleman, Camargo and Diaz Ordaz, from both Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa.
"We have finished integrating all the units to be involved in the operations in coordination with the Marines and Federal Police, who will provide support with their infantry and aircraft," said the military commander.
The army battalions involved in this area belong to the Military Zones 7 and 8, wit headquarters in Escobedo, Nuevo Leon and Reynosa, Tamaulipas, as well as Special Forces companies sent from the Military Camp Number One in the Federal District (Mexico City), according to the military commander consulted.
The Federal Police will be working out of Reynosa.
A naval commander said that the work of the Marines will be primarily intelligence operations but will also involve joint patrols with the Army and Federal Police.
The operation, the military source said, will also involve military checkpoints where every vehicle including trucks and passenger transport will be inspected.
Security operations will include aerial reconnaissance and raids in rural areas and ranches.
The military operations come as Eugenio Hernández Flores, the Governor of Tamaulipas, said in a statement this past Thursday that his administration has been unable to curb the the violence resulting from the Zeta-Gulf Cartel power struggle.
Tamaulipas Governor Eugenio Hernández Flores (for a profile of Hernandez Flores's administration see: http://www.borderlandbeat.com/2010/07/gulf-cartel-hitman-guards-tamaulipas.html)
Governor Hernandez is infamous as the instigator of the “aqui no pasa nada” (nothing bad happens here) denial statement as security in his state deteriorated. His term as Governor also saw organized crime, always a powerful force in Tamaulipas, reach new levels of infiltration and corruption of state government, law enforcement, business, politics and the media
The Tamaulipas Governor admited that his municipal and state police forces are incapable of dealing with the drug cartel war that has left the state in a dire situation, which has worsened since the death of “Tony Tormenta”.
"Our municipal and state police can not do much (to combat the violence), so it is urgent that the federal government step up its presence along the border of the state," said Hernández.
On the situation in Ciudad Mier, the Governor asked the Mexican Army for help, for them not to abandon the refugee population to their fate. Although the Governor has reportedly sent some aid he cannot guarantee their safety.
The exodus caused by Los Zetas has already hit 6 states.
One of many victims of the federal anti-drug cartel strategy expressed his sentiments from a Ciudad Aleman shelter: "If the Army can not come to defend us, send us weapons to defend ourselves."
The exodus of people from small towns in northern Mexico, who have moved due to threats made by members of Los Zetas, has struck at least six states, said criminologist Martin Barron, a researcher at the National Institute of Criminal Sciences (Inacipe), in a telephone interview with La Jornada.
"The death of “Tony Tormenta” will incite Los Zetas to increase the pressure on about 250 municipalities in the states Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Durango, Veracruz and San Luis Potosi, " said Barron.
According to the criminologist, the first reaction of the people "is to abandon their homes in a climate of public fear and insecurity that is felt most acutely in towns of no more than a thousand people". These small towns usually have no, or only sporadic at best, police protection.
During his academic work at several institutions Barron has documented "an atmosphere of fear that is affecting the psychological condition and will have an unexpected social impact.”
For his part, José Luis Piña, a specialist in national security issues, said the exodus has already happened in other parts of the country, such as Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Baja California and in the same cities of Tamaulipas, where organized criminal gangs threaten residents to leave, then take possession of their properties.
He said that since the government decided on a frontal assault on organized crime " we have not seen positive results and everything indicates that the current repressive strategy where we arrest drug dealers and confiscate drugs and weapons, has produced no change at all.”
Jose Luis Peña is right to a degree but we must ask ourselves who is really to
blame for the violence and killings. We can criticize President Calderon for errors in his strategy, for an idiotic lack of focus in earlier dismissing the violence as “son ajustes de cuentas, entre delincuentes” (they are a settling of scores between criminals). We can blame earlier Presidents for not taking decisive action against the drug cartels and say that Mexico would be a better place now if they had.
The war that President Calderon declared against the drug cartels is at worst only partially responsible for the massacres, assassinations, abductions and robberies and collateral damage in clashes between rival criminals. These were going to happen regardless because this violence and greed is in the very nature of drug cartels and organized crime. Remember that it is the Zetas and the Gulf cartel that are driving the people from their homes and ranches.
Imagine if Calderon had not taken any action against organized crime. At what point would all of Mexico resemble Tamaulipas and Ciudad Mier today?
Ciudadypoder.com.mx (from a Grupo Reforma article)
Mexicoahoraonunca.com (from a Grupo Reforma) article)