Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Risking it all on Mexico's 'Route of Death'

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 |

AFP

The bus driver does his best to appear calm, but as he swerves his vehicle on a nearly empty road towards the border town of Matamoros thoughts of bus hijackings and massacres are clearly on his mind.

Authorities have found 126 bodies in the past weeks - including 10 on Wednesday - in area mass graves. The culprits, they say, are Los Zetas, a ruthless drug cartel run by ex-military commandos, and the victims were taken from passenger buses just like this one.

"Yes, I'm kind of afraid," said the driver, who refused to give his name.

"But one is here to work first, and I hope to God that nothing will happen to us."

There are only 15 customers aboard the Noreste passenger bus en route from San Fernando to Matamoros. Passengers include several women and at least two minors. The adults seem nervous.

State officials say that at least six passenger buses have been hijacked near San Fernando this year, though locals say the toll is higher.

This is the same area where the Zetas last year kidnapped and slaughtered 73 immigrants from Central and South America on their way to try to illegally cross the border into the United States.

"Once they stopped us on the road," said Jorge Enrique Gonzalez, a traveling salesman who works in the region.

"They looked like federal or military agents. At night we couldn't tell if they were good or bad. They asked us to identify ourselves, and asked some of us what our occupations were."

Gonzalez was spared, and now "I prefer to travel by day," he said.

It is unclear why the Zetas kidnap bus passengers along what the Mexican media has dubbed the "route of death."

Jaime Canseco, a senior official in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, believes the gunmen could be looking for hostages for ransom, or could be recruiting hitmen and murdering those who refuse to join. They could also be forcing people to pay a toll to travel on the road.

The federal government on Tuesday said it was sending reinforcements to patrol the north-eastern highways, but it did not say how many troops would be sent beyond the 8,000 troops already in the region.

The bus stopped at several government roadblocks, so "things are calm for the time being," says the driver. "The problem is driving at night."

One of the three bus companies normally operating in the region has stopped service. The other two companies only drive buses during the day.

"We can't cancel routes because it would be turning our backs on our customers," said Abelardo Osuna with the Transpais bus line. Osuna said his company is instead re-routing the buses.

Since 2010, more than 1,600 people have died in Tamaulipas state in the turf war between the Zetas and their former employers, the Gulf cartel.

As the sun sets the passengers aboard the Noreste bus become more agitated.

"I haven't traveled in this area for 16 years," said a passenger heading back to the United States who only gave his name as Juan.

"Hopefully nothing will happen," he says, nervously checking his watch.

In Matamoros, a crowd of relatives of missing travelers gathered Wednesday at the city morgue, wondering if the bodies of their loved ones had been found in the mass graves.

"I just came here with the hope of finding the body of my husband, who left more than a year ago from Guanajuato," in central Mexico, said Juani Manriquez, 40.

Manriquez's husband had promised to call once he reached Matamoros, with plans to swim across the Rio Grande into the United States and make his way to Miami for work.

The call never came.

Manriquez is one of 136 people from around the country who has signed up with officials to see if any of the bodies belong to their missing relative.

At least 57 people from Guanajuato have filed cases of missing people in the last days, local media reported, and people from at least six other areas said they intend to travel to Matamoros searching for missing loved ones.

Experts are having difficulty identifying the bodies. There is not enough room in the amphitheater where the bodies are being kept, and a shortage of trained personnel to complete the task.

State prosecutors said that some of the bodies they have found have been buried for more than a year.

"Don't be surprise, we could eventually find more than 180 bodies," said a local investigator, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There are so many bodies that a refrigerated truck was being rushed from Mexico City, because the local morgue was overflowing.

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11 Borderland Beat Comments:

GrandeGoatHorn said...

Why would they stop the bus? It is a very large vehicle and if I was to see gun man or ANY check point I would just floor it and smash through, a big bus can move anything out of the way!

Anonymous said...

I love my country but the U.S. government is the most corrupt group of criminals and its people, the most complacent. Our military forces are basically mercenaries deployed whenever an opportunity arises where it stands to benefit logistically, politically, and financially from crisi it sometimes foments with the use of the CIA and criminal rebel groups.

What does that mean? Our government is guilty of waging war on innocent civilians and combatants all over the world. We're talking about millions of people slaughtered by our murderous government.

100,000 innocent German civilians bombed in WWII Hamburg, Dresden, and Pforzheim, not including Japan.

3,000,000 in Vietnam

20,000 in Panama

1,000,000 in Iraq, not including the casualties in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and now Libya.

Do you still want them in Mexico?

The biggest lie in the world is that the U.S.(government) is the good guy. They never have been and they never will.

When the prison system profits from the incarceration of millions of prisoners involved in illegal drugs, you can clearly see there are no nor will there ever be an incentive to stop the drug flow or the level of crime.

In the back of our minds, yes, we'd all like our troops to go in there and show those mexican military soldiers how it's supposed to be done..But think about it. Our soldiers are good because they've been doing this for a very long time and against many innocent civilians.

You think it is bad in Mexico right now? Just wait and see what happens if the U.S. gets in there with their usual handy work. Imagine the cartel wars intensifying with little to no arrests while the U.S. plunders Mexico of its oil and Banks. It did it to Iraq and Afghanistan, and it's doing it to Libya right now.

Divide and Conquer.

The only hope mexico has is that the people uprise forcefully against its government and change its system to benefit them and not the criminals/politicians.

Buela said...

I just read an article in el manana today about the fear of taking those buses. Bus travel is down to 38-40% of normal, how awful, how desperate one must be to know it is russian roulette but feel they have no choice.

The feds and state have loaded up on guarding the route but for how long? like August? until the press leaves?

Anonymous said...

I am not trying to sound ignorant or stupid here, but for educational reasons, If I saw any cartel members, how would I be able to identify who they are ?

Anonymous said...

There are no tell-tale signs... there's no Bloods or Crips, blue vs red, no ball cap turned sideways, or low-rider riding Mexicans that you can point to and say, "look!! Cartel Members!!"

Cartel Members can be (in the case of several south TX counties) the head of the area's law enforcement infrastructure [ex Sheriffs Cantu and Guerra] or to hard-core tattoo riddled ex-cons; their wives, kids, moms, anyone, anyone, anyone...

Anonymous said...

Please WHY do people still take this route? fuckin suidical!

Anonymous said...

Do the police not patrol these highways?? JOKE I GUESS

Tao_of_Ray said...

From what I understand it is VERY easy to tell who is in what cartel... They wear uniforms and even tag their vehicles. It is very obvious.

They are also the ones carrying the AK-47s and AR-15s...

Anonymous said...

The problem in Mexico is that the government does not let citizens protect themselves. You've these crazy, drugged scum w/ AK 47 or AR-15, I would be scared. Most policemen are corrupt and those who are not get killed. The governors of every state try to pretend like nothing bad is going on.

Anonymous said...

You cant tell the good guys from the bad. They all dress alike and they all have those flashing red/blue lights. They all use black balacavas, they all are armed, and they all shoot if you try and run through. Worst part if it happens to be military, they are already set up in military formation. they set up for ambush ahead of time, just in case the bad guys roll up. The bus would have to drive through an ambush, not likely to succeed. So you stop and pray that its the good guys. its killing commerce, but then again thats the point.

Anonymous said...

On aug 28 i was on a tour bus in guadalupe zacateces , a blue light came on behind us the driver pulled over. 2 masked gunmen got on the bus robbed each person one by one and sent them to the back of the bus. They assaulted the bus driver by hitting him in the head with a gun. It was terrifying i was with my 3 and 4 year old sons and i am american and white. So all of these ignorant people who says this doesn't happen is lying and lying to theirselfs.

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