By Chris Covert
The leftist newsweekly, Proceso, arguably one of the best written publications in the world in any language last week released through its APRO news service a dour assessment of the most recent violence at the southern border of Tamaulipas state and the norther border of Veracruz state.
Liberal have agendas and so do those who read and support Proceso, by this writer's estimate about five percent of Mexico's adult population max. So, it is horrible that drug gang violence is taking place in this area, around Tampico, and it probably always has been. No one really likes violence except maybe for the gangbanger shooters the cartels hire these days.
Most conveniently left out of Proceso's prose is the reason why violence has spiked in the area.
The last major shootings in Tampico before last December took place around Easter weekend of 2011 when groups of truck-borne armed suspects decided to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord by shooting up the place at night, then going into hiding the next day.
A common event for Mexicans in Tampico on that weekend, undoubtedly a very warm holiday weekend, is to take to the beaches and generally have a good time for Easter, after church of course. This writer has never been that far south in Mexico, but were I a betting man, that would be my bet.
Mexicans are no different that anyone else, They love their families; they like to have a good time, and they don't want to see anyone get hurt having a good time.
The Summer of 2011 was a terrible summer in Tamaulipas.
For some unknown reason the leader of a Los Zetas gang in San Fernando, Tamaulipas began sometime in April, 2011 to hijack buses, rob everyone, rape women, and allegedly recruited shooters into their ranks, killing those that were not to be used for their cannon fodder. That was but for a brief time in March and April. The crimes that group committed stretched from at as far back as the Summer of 2010 into spring 2011, when the first of the mass graves around San Fernando were discovered.
A total of 193 individuals were murdered and buried in mass plots in and around San Fernando, many of them migrants from Mexico as well as central and south American and all likely victims of extortion, robbery and rape. The death toll in San Fernando that summer has been eclipse only by the graves discovered in and around Durango city in Durango, which at last count totaled 280. Unlike San Fernando, the Durango graves were from victims stretching back as far as 2004. San Fernando went back only as far as the summer of 2010. In terms of abject bloodiness, San Fernando almost certainly eclipses Durango.
Tamaulipas has long had a problem with the drug trade. The three major crossing from Tamaulipas, Reynosa, Mataoros and Nuevo Laredo have been points of contention between Los Zetas, and the Gulf and now Sinaloa Cartels. Reading some of Proceso's articles on the area, a heavy political and social cost had been imposed on the state as well.
The heavy political cost was represented by an exemplar of cartel governance of an area. On any given day when clashes took place between drug gangs and federal security forces, newspaper websites in those three crossings cities were strangely quiet, almost as if nothing was really going on. Whenever an ongoing battle took place, the only news leaking out would be Twitter posts by private individuals and local government officials, advising residents about ongoing gun battles.
Proceso in one article in 2010 explained that the reason for press silence was cartels were constantly threatening newspapers and their reporters for their reportage. Some comments made in national publications said, without much attribution, that some newspapers in Tamaulipas were under control of drug gangs. So why risk personal harm reporting violent event when you can report on the latest government news release that would not incur cartel anger?
So without really showing it, the press in Tamaulipas made a quite public display of how a cartel in control of municipalities in Mexico would be: Press freedom at the whim of a well-heeled criminal, backed by the force of arms. The curbing of press freedoms were not nationwide to be sure. In Juarez for example, the press is vigorous and critical of both criminal gangs and of government. Northern Tamaulipas was similar to the Mexican Sierras where cartels continue to operate with complete impunity.
On February 2011 on Army Day, Mexican General Guillermo Galvan Galvan announced that four new rifle battalions were to be deployed to Tamaulipas. Somehow the PRI dominated Chamber of Deputies only a few months before released funds sufficient to raise new troops to aid in the fight against the drug cartels, enough for 18 new units. Apparently in the intervening time as the Mexican Army reinforced its efforts in Tamaulipas, two rifle units were deployed to Nuevo Laredo, a crossing virtually owned by Los Zetas, and the other two elsewhere. What apparently was going on was a massive reinforcement for the state. SEDENA, the controlling agency for the Mexican Army added five thousand troops to the state, the equivalent of two rifle brigades. Last week an additional 8,000 troops were deployed temporarily to the state from other states in Mexico such as Chiapas state.
A total of 13,000 army troops have been moved into Tamaulipas since the summer of 2011.
January 2nd, Polica Federal announced the additional of an additional 1,500 effectives to the state.
The week before came in a Milenio news daily article about the first of the shootings that took place the last week of December. The violence between cartels apparently were because of the troop movement. Criminal gangs in northern Tamaulipas were moving their activities south in response to the buildup in the north. In this writer's opinion it was a startling revelation, given the absolute attacks on the press in Mexico against the the national government's policy of using the military to fight the cartels.
Where the new deployment leaves the cartels is anyone's guess at the moment. But it is a clear major challenge to criminal gangs in the state that not only must they deal with reach other's rivals, they must deal with an unprecedented buildup of military power in the area.
Perhaps the most visible evidence of the buildup of forces in the area are the output of several newspapers in the region. Judging by articles posted on newspaper websites, which now include reports sourced through SEDENA about several raids, busts and armed encounters -- which is something that would be unheard up only a year before – the virtual shuttering of local press has ended.
The willingness of local press to report on the drug war whereas before it was cowed by cartel governance is perhaps the biggest change in the last summer outside of the massive reinforcement in Tamaulipas.
In Tamaulipas, encounters between Mexican security forces and drug cartel bad guys will likely continue, and until cartel power in the region is finally broken. But even if that does not or cannot happen, Mexican can at least now revel in the Mexican spring, provided courtesy of the Mexican military.
Chris Covert writes Mexican drug war and Mexican national political news for Rantburg.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org