A Zeta convoy, sicario strip bar, a military roadblock, an escorted bulletproof Hummer, multiple car chases and gunfights throughout the city. As if that's not enough, a stampede of civilians ensued and the criminals, for the most part got away. This may sound like a Hollywood blockbuster starring Bruce Willis or Matt Damon. To others it sounds like a narco-corrido. To the citizens of Veracruz, this was the horror they lived through this weekend.
Five were killed and at least a dozen were injured after a shootout, which spanned a few blocks and lasted about ninety minutes, erupted between Zetas and Mexican military this Sunday morning in the Mexican port city of Veracruz. The sound of heavy machine gunfire and grenade explosions triggered fear and confusion throughout the city and also a human stampede at a nearby concert that was being promoted by a local radio station. Initial reports confirm at least one Mexican soldier, two sicarios and two innocent civilians were killed as a result of the shootout. Conflicting reports indicate that four additional military personnel were killed and four people were transferred to a nearby hospital due to gunshot wounds. Details are still sketchy since government officials have not released a formal statement regarding all the events resulting from this incident.
Witnesses claim the violence began when a convoy of luxury vehicles and trucks, usually indicative of drug cartel activities, was spotted by Mexican Navy officials. The convoy seemed to be escorting a Hummer, which is a telltale sign of a boss, that was headed to a local bar, "Noctambulos".
This bar, which provides table dances and liquor, has been known to be patronized by heavily armed men and cartel bosses, some of which are related to former political figures of the town of Veracruz. In one such account, over two years ago, a witness places up to 80 heavily armed men enjoying table dances while up to 50 of their cohorts would secure the exterior with automatic rifles and grenade launchers nearby in their unlicensed, bulletproof vehicles. Local police would even assist them by cordoning off the streets leading up to the bar.
Mexican military followed the convoy and a roadblock was initiated in advance of the convoy at the cross streets of La Fragua and Vasco de Gama. The makeshift roadblock was being constructed with discarded materials found in a nearby truck belonging to the Federal Electrical Commission. The first sounds of gunfire were heard by witnesses at 2:22 AM. According to witnesses, most of the bulletproof vehicles opened fire towards the soldiers in an attempt to elude them and protect one particular vehicle, a bulletproof Hummer that was attempting to escape.
The Hummer reportedly outmaneuvered trailing military personnel in a large military truck. The gunfire from military personnel proved useless, as according to a witness account, it did not penetrate the Hummer. The Hummer took all evasive actions to elude capture by going over street medians and eventually returning fire. A witness claims that the Hummer produced a fully automatic weapon resembling a .50 caliber that surprised the pursuing military vehicles. The Hummer managed to repel the military attack and evade capture.
Another vehicle was not so lucky. A late model white Volkswagen Bora with four occupants attempted to divert the military away from the Hummer and crashed into a blue Chevy truck. It ran into military personnel on Isabel La Catolica and was blocked off by two military vehicles. One blocked the front and another military truck blocked it in from behind. According to one eyewitness, one of the occupants exited the vehicle with an assault rifle and opened fire towards the soldiers. One of the military trucks returned fire with a top mounted .50 caliber and unloaded on the Bora. He adds that two occupants were killed and the other two exited the Bora and ran towards nearby alleys.
Military personnel secured the area and proceeded to search the vehicle. In the vehicle, high caliber assault rifles were found. They also found military style uniforms and weapons in the trunk. While the vehicle was being secured, cartel reinforcements arrived and strategically positioned themselves to engage in a twenty minute gun battle with military personnel.
One witness describing the events to a reporter compared the area to a small battlefield. He stated that on the corner of La Fragua and De Las Americas, two Cherokees and a Suzuki manned by cartel members came in from Vascos de Gama and opened fire on a military tank-like vehicle. The Navy soldier onboard the vehicle attempted to locate the source of the gunfire, pointed his cannon towards the assailants to return fire, and that's when he ducked for cover.
A family and a taxicab driver were unfortunately caught in the crossfire. A couple and their teenage son were arriving home from a nearby concert when the gunfight erupted. One witness claims the mother, Alicia Cadena Enriquez of thirty-nine years old, was killed from a gunshot to the head when she ran for cover. The taxicab driver, Melquiades Camarillo Luna, was shot twice in the back and was transported to a nearby hospital in another taxi. Alicia's 14 year old son, José Oyorzabal Cadena, and her husband, Hermenegildo Oyorzabal Moreno, were transported to a local hospital.
The violence was so intense that paramedics were hesitant to tend to the injured. They wouldn't get near the scene, and those who did refused to activate their sirens for fear of drawing attention. The taxi driver who was shot twice in the back was transported to the hospital by another taxi who came to his rescue. Residents who attempted to see the gun battles take place were told by sicarios to stay indoors and duck, otherwise they would be shot in the head.
A local radio station was hosting a concert at the Benito Juarez auditorium, a few blocks away from where the altercations between Zetas and military personnel were taking place. When the main attraction, Arrollada Banda Limon was about to begin their show, concertgoers began to hear the shooting nearby. According to witnesses at the event, a silence ensued when the gunfire was getting closer. At that point, one woman went into shock and fainted. That caused a chain reaction among partygoers and chaos ensued. People began fainting, screaming and going into shock. Others began running for the exits for fear of being trapped inside the auditorium.
Authorities claim that the hosts of the concert acted irresponsibly by not controlling the situation and telling everyone to calm down. Instead, they instructed patrons to evacuate and caused people to stampede and trample on each other in order to exit the building. Many people were injured after being stepped on by others wearing heels and cowboy boots. The building was damaged and the exterior gate was somehow busted open by people who were attempting to escape and couldn't find an exit. Young people were injured when they attempted to climb a gate and jump off. In the end, the gun battle was three blocks away and did not reach the auditorium and authorities believe the injuries could have all been avoided. Paramedics tended to at least ten people suffering from shock and 15 others who were injured in the stampede.
The official reports from the local government summarized the events with three people killed in a confrontation with cartel members aboard a white Bora. One sicario, one military soldier and one civilian. That has caused distrust among residents who witnessed the events and have gone as far as to demand a more thorough statement from government officials.
Sources claim that the altercation between the Zetas and Mexican authorities lasted over ninety minutes, involved at least three separate vehicle pursuits and seven standoffs. There are also reports that three more people were captured in the altercations. Gilberto Ramón García and Iliana Guevara Soto were allegedly detained by authorities and accused of being involved in the altercations. No formal information about the third person detained has been released and one report goes as far as to say that he was a kidnapping victim who was rescued.
In all, government sources claim to have killed only one attacker, disabled one white Bora and that one civilian was killed as a result of an accident investigation. There has been no formal explanation for the multiple eyewitness accounts of a ninety minute gun battle throughout various locations in the city. Nor has there been any mention of multiple vehicle pursuits, a blockade, an eight vehicle convoy, or a bulletproof Hummer that got away.
Contributed by Borderland Beat reporter Ovemex: