By DUDLEY ALTHAUS
The scrawled note left beside a woman's headless body in this already murder-mired city offered a simple promise.
"The worst is yet to come," the killers' note advised, and it seems all but certainly so.
Gangsters and their local police cronies seemed determined this week to drown Mexico's third-largest city and industrial juggernaut in terror and blood.
At least 33 people were murdered across greater Monterrey in a single day. They included two members of the state governor's personal security detail, whose diced bodies were tossed onto a supermarket parking lot. Army troops arrested 25 members of a suburban police force for suspected complicity in the crime.
Soldiers also have detained 17 police officers from another town, tucked behind the city's airport, accusing them of kidnapping a score of bricklayers working on a new housing development.
The workmen, who were at a site just a few miles from the cluster of hotels catering to U.S. factory executives, reportedly were handed over to gangsters as part of an extortion scheme. No ransom demands were made. Co-workers presume them dead.
This month's surge in butchery marks the return of gunmen from the Gulf Cartel, a narcotics-trafficking gang based in the city of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, to reclaim Monterrey from the Zetas, the cartel's onetime henchmen and now bitter foes. The gangs have been warring for the past 16 months, leaving thousands dead in the Monterrey area and the ranchland towns between here and the Rio Grande.
Rival gangs have taken to hanging victims during daylight rush hours from overpasses on busy boulevards, burning one alive. They've left heads in front of popular restaurants and in plazas. They've flayed the skin from some victims, dismembered still others.
"It's obvious the problem is growing," said Tatiana Clouthier, a former federal congresswoman and public security activist. "Justice has been overcome at the local, state and federal level."
The new burst of violence mocks four years of promises and policies from state and federal politicians — backed by the city's powerful business community - aimed at bringing the gangs to heel. Efforts at reforming deeply corrupted and pitifully trained police forces have achieved little so far. The successful but precarious pacification of a few Monterrey suburbs has been driven by the personal agendas of colorful mayors who leave office next year.
As elsewhere in Mexico, Monterrey's decades-long nonchalance has claimed its due.
"It's a consequence of not doing things in time, of having closed our eyes to reality," said Jaime Rodriguez, the 53-year-old mayor of Garcia, a quickly industrializing former ranch town 20 miles west of Monterrey. He has survived two assassination attempts so far this year.
"If you don't act, you're complicit," Rodriguez said. "We all have something to do with this problem. So we all have to resolve it."
Mayor has armed guards
Suspected Zetas, aided by some city policemen, came gunning for Rodriguez at his home in November 2009, just days after he took office promising to clean up the corrupt force. The gunmen ambushed and killed his newly appointed police chief and five other officers as they rushed to the mayor's aid.
Rodriguez reacted by firing the entire police force, replacing officers with vetted former soldiers and appointing another general as chief. On Rodriguez's orders, the police shut down some 250 shops that were selling narcotics, forced unlicensed taxis off the streets and set up a network of more than 200 informants - the mayor calls them eagles - to keep watch on the neighborhoods.
Rodriguez claims crime has dropped by 60 percent. But Zetas attacked the mayor in February and again in March, killing one of his bodyguards in the second attack. These days, Rodriguez travels with at least half a dozen well-armed escorts. He carries a pocketful of hopefully protective religious amulets, offered by well-wishers.
"When you beat death, you think about what you want to do with your life," said Rodriguez, who admits coveting the governorship of Nuevo Leon state. "We are going to put this city in order."
In many ways, Monterrey might seem little changed from the past that built its reputation as a dynamic business center. Official figures claim the city leads Mexico this year in job growth and business investment.
Factories, including nearly 700 owned by U.S. and other foreign companies, hum on the outskirts of the city. Cargo trucks ply the local roads and roll up the freeways to and from the South Texas border. Crews are throwing up thousands of tiny working-class homes near the factories.
But center city streets empty quickly in the evening's fading light as people rush for the safety of home. The huge central plaza and the once-bustling restaurants and bars in the adjacent neighborhoods stand largely empty after dark.
Though the economy continues growing, security fears are having an effect. The 40,000 jobs Nuevo Leon has added so far this year fall far short of the 100,000 needed, said Jose Mario Garza, director of the state chapter of Coparmex, a leading business organization.
Garza and business leaders warn that Monterrey and the entire state are "slipping out of control" because security reforms pushed by Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina have remedied nothing.
"The coordination that they are carrying out is just for publicity," Garza said. "It's failed, as we can see with the recent events."
Medina, who is midway through a six-year term, vowed this week "to keep attacking the criminals."
Some state officials complain they cannot be blamed for a problem that has been decades in the making.
"It's unrealistic to think this would be fixed in two or four or six years," said one official who works on security issues, speaking on condition of anonymity. "What's at stake is not the survival of a government," he said, referring to Medina's administration.
"What's at stake is the survival of society."