El Diario.mx. 07-12-2012.Torreon. The capture in Coahuila of Alberto Jose Gonzalez Xalate, "El Paisa", considered the Zetas' number three man, has triggered a bloody dispute among criminals over the La Laguna zone, that has resulted in 61 executions during the first eleven days in July, and a total of 425 homicides so far this year, 2012, just in Torreon alone.
The 425 homicides reported in Torreon this year are more than the 362 deaths reported in 2010; last year the number reached 745 in this Laguna city. Meanwhile, this year in Gomez Palacio there have been 93 executions and in Lerdo, a total of 22; both are cities in Durango, located in the Comarca Lagunera (the Lagunera province).
The incident that apparently marked a watershed in the increase in violent deaths was the capture of "El Paisa" or "El Paisano", the leader of the Zetas who was in control of criminal activities in Coahuila and enjoyed an institutionalized protection network in all three levels of government.
The Federal Police detained Gonzalez Xalate on April 29 in Saltillo, when he was going into a movie theater, and his arrest triggered a series of shootouts that same day that left one dead and eight persons wounded.
According to the statistics, homicides related to organized crime peaked in May when 237 murders were reported, while during the first four months of the year, the number was 188.
The growing criminal activity is reflected in the 30 attacks against elements of the Torreon Municipal Public Safety agency that left six policemen and 19 aggressors dead.
This crime wave is manifesting itself despite the implementation of Operation Laguna Segura, a strategy whose strength was diminished by the deployment of military personnel to other areas of the country due to the federal elections.
El Paisa's capture was made possible after the federal government dismantled his institutional protection network, which had among its members the Coahuila Deputy Attorney General, Claudia Gonzalez; the former chief of State police, Manuel Cicero Salazar; a brother of the former state attorney general, Humberto Torres Charles, and several members of the military.
The dismantling of his network of collaborators and the subsequent arrest of El Paisa allowed the Pacific Cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, and the Gulf cartel, led by Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, "El Coss," to increase pressure in this area of the country, in an alliance against the Zetas.
Ruben Moreira, Governor of Coahuila, mentions that these are the criminal groups fighting for control in Torreon and Saltillo: "The situation we have here is between two crime groups, the Zetas and the Pacifico. What we see in Saltillo is a dispute between the Zetas and the Gulf (cartels)."
"Torreon is a great city," he adds, "it has a great deal of purchasing power, and thus attracts very good people, a lot of good people, but it also attracts criminals."
If the trend continues with respect to homicides, at the end of July the number will exceed the 113 crimes committed in June, the most violent month in the city's history.
Last Sunday afternoon, ten persons were murdered in this city, five were found dismembered and two were decapitated. The next day, in separate incidents, the city reported 13 violent homicides, including six in a mechanic's shop.
Laguneros feel threatened by the crime wave.The wave of violence that has intensified during the last few days in Torreon has had an impact on the morale of the area residents, who are living with the fear that they will be targets for the criminal groups operating in the city. Antonio Gutierrez, president of Canaco-Torreon (a pro-business organization), said that the latest criminal incidents have not taken place in the Torreon downtown area, but even so, the effect is felt by the general population. Unlike last year, when the majority of the shootouts took place in the Central sector, today the focal points of the confrontations have been in the east and the southwest (parts of the city). These confrontations left 61 dead during the first 10 days in July.
"But this situation affects us all," he states, "for example, people are uneasy going out on the streets at night. Well, there are those that are afraid to go out even during the day, for example, to buy groceries, and they look for alternative ways to make purchases, such as using the Internet or sending another person. Clearly, the insecurity affects the area's development."
After pointing out that the Lagunera society has been affected by the increase in crime in Torreon, Cesar Villareal, President of the Citizen Council on Public Safety, says that the Operation Laguna Segura needs to be strengthened. He says that in order for the anti-crime strategy to develop well, it needs a sufficient number of personnel at all three levels of government, even though this is not being attained at the federal level. They are hoping that any day now, the federals' offer of additional federal police and military aid will arrive to the Laguna area.
"If there's a strategy to fight organized crime, what we need are more personnel to complement the operations," he says, "we know there are other parts of the country going through difficult public safety situations, but all we ask is for the Laguna area not to be left unprotected."