By Dudley Althaus
Mexican troops have taken over the policing of the largest cities in the state bordering south Texas as officials try once again to fix their corruption-crippled municipal forces.
Some 2,800 soldiers, bolstered by state police units, replaced most civilian officers in 22 Tamaulipas cities and towns, including Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, Matamoros and smaller border towns as well as Tampico and the state capital, Ciudad Victoria.
The soldiers will stay while the municipal officers are vetted for possible participation in crime and corruption, and will either be fired or reinstated, officials said.
In addition, three new battalion-strength army bases are being established in Ciudad Mier, an embattled border town upriver from McAllen; San Fernando where gangsters have killed hundreds of innocent migrants and others in the past 10 months; and in Ciudad Mante.
“The army is playing a supporting role,” said Col. Ricardo Trevilla, a defense ministry spokesman. “It's not taking control.”
More than 1,000 people have been killed in Tamaulipas since early last year, when fighting broke out between the so-called Gulf Cartel narcotics smuggling gang and its former enforcers, Los Zetas. Officials also accuse the Zetas of massacring 72 mostly Central American migrants in San Fernando last August and murdering nearly 200 other innocents, mostly travelers passing through the town, since last fall.
Bought off or terrorized into compliance by the gangsters, local police forces in the state have been repeatedly purged and rebuilt in recent years, to little effect. The military's temporary assumption of local police duties was agreed to in February by Tamaulipas' governor and President Felipe Calderón.
The takeover comes as activists press Calderón to withdraw the military from the government's crackdown on the gangs, citing human rights abuses by soldiers. Calderón insists the troops will stay as long as local and state forces aren't up to the task.
Mexican soldiers and marines have been clashing with gangsters in Tamaulipas and neighboring Nuevo León state, which includes Monterrey, for much of the past 18 months. Troops this year have arrested entire police forces in the Monterrey area for collaborating with the criminals.
Soldiers killed more than 600 alleged gangsters in Tamaulipas alone since late 2006, including some 230 this year, the newspaper Milenio reported this week. In all, soldiers have killed nearly 1,700 people across Mexico since Calderón deployed them against the gangsters upon taking office in December 2006.
“Do you seriously think that withdrawing the federal forces, which in many areas are the only ones fighting the criminals, will end the violence?” Calderón asked in a meeting with activists Thursday. “Doesn't it seem difficult to believe that they will simply stop kidnapping, extorting and killing?”
For a complete list of Tamaulipas local Police departments please read: Valley Central News