CALLA TAMAULIPAS NARCOEJECUCIONES
The evidence that crosses the wall of silence erected across the U.S-Mexico border suggests that the death toll in Tamaulipas may surpass that of Chihuahua.
Tamaulipas reporters speak quietly of days of fighting with 200 dead. Of stretches of highways with landscapes of dead teenagers, almost children, scattered continously every several meters. Bodies are no longer delivered to the state’s medical forensic service (Semefo), funeral homes or cemeteries but are buried in mass clandestine graves.
Puddles of blood in the streets are the only evidence of the murders that escape the funerary statistics.
It is difficult to prove the claims. Unlike cities such as Ciudad Juárez, in Tamaulipas the number of killings are not published because that figure is unknown. The authorities deny any knowledge of that information. The Center for Border Studies and Promotion of Human Rights (CEFPRODHAC), the organization that took the inventory of deaths, stopped doing so last year.
"I was investigating where the dead were being taken, but they don’t enp up in any of the cemeteries, the cemetery workers I spoke with said they aren’t there. The funeral homes do not want to give any information. Asking the police is like asking the drug traffickers and if they know we’re reporters, well that’s not good. For two years I collected statistics of the deaths but that’s no longer possible,” laments a Hispanic reporter that works for a Texas newspaper, who requested his name be omitted for his security. He says Texas reporters are also threatened just like their Mexican counterparts. He even has his will made.
Tamaulipas is the closest thing to a criminal dictatorship, with areas controlled by the Gulf Cartel and others by Los Zetas that since February are fighting for control of the state. For over a decade Tamaulipas has been a “zone of silence”. Businessmen, Governors, journalists, mayors, police and an army of informants have been on the drug cartel payroll; they have training camps for new assassins and the local media under censorship.
Tamaulipas has even consored the media located on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande.
Texas newspaper publishers, such as the San Antonio Express-News and the Laredo Morning Times, have sent their reporters to the Mexican side to document information as basic as the number of dead after the fiercest clashes between gangs or between gangs against federal forces, but for the last two years they do not get reliable figures.
"The day after the gunbattle in Matamoros in which Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén ‘Tony Tormenta’ died, the government reported 10 deaths, the border media reported 40 to 50 deaths, and U.S. officials told us there were 100. We had to report there were at least 10 and a maximum of 100 deaths. In United States newspapers it is unthinkable to report such vague figures but we are forced to,” complains Nora Lopez, state editor of San Antonio Express-News.
(This contributor was told by a Matamoros business owner claiming to have been in the city during the death of “Tony Tormenta” that the death toll was somewhere between 100 and 200; that most of the deaths were caused by indiscriminate gunfire by soldiers who could not differentiate between civilians and Gulf Cartel gunmen and that the cartel gunmen displayed better fire control. Of course, there was no way to confirm this so we did not include it in Borderland Beat’s coverage. Another source that claimed to have witnessed the recent fighting in Ciudad Mier described dozens of bodies being burned in pyres but this was also impossible to verify.)
In Tamaulipas more news is censored that what is published. Most of the local press is muzzled. Reporters from national and foreign media who wish to investigate in the state should have a logistical plan in place before arriving but even that is no guarantee they will come out unscathed. Several outside reporters have been taken hostage by criminals, beaten for several hours and expelled with the caveat that they will pay with their life if they return.
Even the most experienced journalists covering the border say that entering Tamaulipas is like stepping into quicksand, according to Alfredo Corchado, veteran correspondent for The Dallas Morning News.
In February, when the war started between Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, managed to enter Reynosa for a couple of hours and reported that dozens of people had died the previous weeks and eight journalists were missing.
"There are regions where silence dominates, where fear is felt and seen among the people. And I saw that in Reynosa, I was very impressed. Organized crime in the region has emerged as a parallel government that dominates even the press. You feel the helplessness of society and the government," says the journalist who was recently recognized for his coverage of the Mexican drug wars with the 2010 Lovejoy Award.
Although since 2007 Ciudad Juárez is considered the most dangerous city in Mexico, most correspondents feel more secure in the Chihuahuan border city than in Tamaulipas.
"Ciudad Juarez is too large, it is hard to dominate the city and a journalist there has more space. Ironically, I feel more relaxed in Juarez, unlike Matamoros, Reynosa, Ciudad Aleman, Nuevo Laredo and other Tamaulipas municipalities where you do not trust anyone, except for only a very few people and where the tactics of Los Zetas has created a much more raw, more brutal, more sophisticated urban warfare,” says Corchado.
According to Mexican journalist Jorge Luis Sierra, founder of McAllenTimes.com, a bilingual news outlet, this year more people may have died in Tamaulipas than in Ciudad Juárez, when considered in proportionate terms.
According to Sierra, "The bulk of the violence has occurred since the split between Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, which has sparked a wave of violence since February. In Ciudad Juarez, where violence is older, local media have shown more independence and have continued to report the violence, but in Tamaulipas this is not so."
Sierra also stated that when CEFPRODHAC in Reynosa stopped counting the violent deaths, independent sources to corroborate the information also disappeared.
“The Texas media continues reporting but it is not so easy to cross the border. In these times of increased violence they have refrained from entering. There was no guarantee of safety, some American journalists had been threatened, and for them it is difficult to go unnoticed. The three major newspapers on this side of the border, the Brownsville Herald, the Monitor and the Laredo Morning Times are still reporting the news, trying to build sources on the other side of the border and crossing when they can."
The San Antonio Express-News was forced to withdraw a reporter from Nuevo Laredo and has not crossed the border since last February, explains Nora Lopez.
Lopez thinks that this lack of knowledge of the reality is very serious because if the gravity of the situation cannot be measured there will be no solidarity within the society to organize.
Heriberto Deandar, editor of El Mañana, the leading newspaper in Tamaulipas, complains about the government’s silence.
"For a year and a half no one knows for certain how many people have been killed and wounded in armed clashes. The Army does not issue these figures in its press bulletins, state authorities are overwhelmed, the PGR (Mexico’s Attorney General’s office) only e-mails releases mentioning detainees throughout the country and our municipalities only report ‘situations of risk’ through their Facebook and Twitter pages.”
An anonymous Matamoros reporter quotes the rules imposed on them by criminals.
"We can not give precise data in an article or footnote to name any of the cartels, or expand on information, nor to mention the violence (nothing about the appearance of dead bodies on roads or wearing t-shirts naming a cartel). The only thing we have been allowed to report is the assassination of the PRI candidate for Governor, Rodolfo Torre Cantu.
a link to El Norte was not included since this is a subscription only newspaper website. The Spanish language article can be found here:
Video of aftermath of an encounter between Mexican soldiers and Zeta gunmen in Nuevo Laredo, July 2010
Truth, another casualty of war: Mexican media sources portrayed this encounter as a group of Zetas that were killed after they had stopped and shot some of the occupants of this bus in an attempt to hijack it to create a blockade. Witnesses to this encounter stated the pickup was being pursued by troops who opened fire after it crashed into the bus, killing the gunmen and two passengers, and wounding several others. The real truth may never be known.