The residents of Ciudad Mier, a town in northeastern Mexico battered by a wave of drug-related violence, have started to return home, thanks to the construction of an army base in the town, residents and municipal officials said.
“Now, we’re getting used to living close to the soldiers,” a resident of Ciudad Mier, once a tourist destination known as the “Magic Town,” told Efe.
Ciudad Mier, located in Tamaulipas state, experienced an exodus late in 2010, when nearly all of the town’s 6,300 residents fled the drug-related violence in the area, moving to neighboring cities and the United States.
“The situation was pretty tough, we felt as if we were in the middle of a war,” Alberto, who owns a business in the town’s downtown area, told Efe.
Ciudad Mier, which is located in the “Frontera Chica” region of Tamaulipas, and most of the other towns in northeastern Mexico have been caught up in the war sparked by the March 2010 rupture of the alliance between the Gulf drug cartel and Los Zetas, the cartel’s former armed wing.
The shootouts between gunmen working for the rival cartels occurred for about six months and sometimes lasted as long as eight hours, leaving the streets covered with “a carpet of (bullet) casings,” Alberto said.
“I doubt that any other part of the country had to live through what this town did,” the merchant said.
“The Frontera Chica has a large number of gaps and informal crossings that facilitate the trafficking of drugs and people into the United States, as well as arms and merchandise trafficking into Mexico,” 8th Military Zone commander Brig. Gen. Miguel Gustavo Gonzalez Cruz said.
The 8th Military Zone has its headquarters in Reynosa, located across the border from McAllen, Texas.
The clashes between the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas forced about 7,000 residents of Ciudad Mier and some neighboring villages to move into a shelter in the city of Miguel Aleman, the general said.
The Defense Secretariat ordered the construction of a base housing about 500 troops in Ciudad Mier to deal with the violence, “achieving a reduction in the clashes between criminal organizations,” Gonzalez Cruz said.
Approximately 4,800 people returned to Ciudad Mier after the arrival of the army troops and the local economy has gradually come back to life, the general said.
A second base is being built in San Fernando, where 72 migrants, the majority of them from Central America, were massacred in August 2010, and a third base is being constructed in Ciudad Mante, located in another violent part of Tamaulipas, Gonzalez Cruz said.
Soldiers are also working to remodel an elementary school in Ciudad Mier.
“The children have started to return to class,” a teacher said, adding that children knew in the past to hit the floor “chest to ground” at the sound of the first shot.
Everyone in the town was used to hitting the ground at home, while visiting businesses or inside offices in Ciudad Mier at the first sound of gunfire, the teacher said.
“With the arrival of the soldiers and the construction of the base, we felt safer starting about four months ago,” the teacher said.
Some other residents offered a different take on the situation in Ciudad Mier.
“The people of the town have not returned 100 percent and the economy is still in critical condition, but it was worse a few months ago,” a merchant said.
The small Mexican town faces other challenges, such as reconstructing a water system that was destroyed by Hurricane Alex in July 2010, forcing residents to obtain drinking water from tanker trucks.
Life in the town is starting to return to normal, but the signs of violence are everywhere – on houses and businesses, on the exterior of the church, where bullet holes and broken windows can be seen, as well as in the dozens of closed businesses and abandoned houses visible around Ciudad Mier.
The Battle for Ciudad Mier (Chapters 1, 2, 3)
Ciudad Mier evacuates after Zetas threaten to kill residents
Verifican regreso a normalidad en Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas