Translated by Otis B Fly-Wheel for Borderland Beat from a Valor por Tamaulipas article
Subject Matter: Life in Tamaulipas under the shadow of impunity
Recommendation: No prior subject matter knowledge required
There is a huge house with a large garden in the city of Victoria in Tamaulipas, it is surrounded by high walls, and this house in turn, is within a community protected by even higher fences and surrounded by security guards. But even here, a businessman sitting in his armchair and surrounded by photographs of his family and religious images, does not feel safe.
"No one trusts anyone", he said. "Ten years ago this estate was not fenced and the children of residents used to play outside here."
But in recent time, he has gone to the funeral of four close friends and residents have sent their children to live in safer areas. Almost everyone that this businessman knows in the Tamaulipas area, in north east Mexico, will only discuss security problems under conditions of anonymity. Everyone here is afraid of retaliation by criminals.
This State that borders Texas, has been the epicentre of efforts of successive Governments to contain the drug trafficking cartels operating in the this area, since the administration of Felipe Calderon, who launched a military campaign against the cartels, and a decade later EPN continues along the same path. (Otis: this can never be achieved, when a proportion of police, armed forces, and civil and government administrators are in the pockets of the CDG, CDN and Los Zetas and Government subjugate the population to keep them from taking matters into their own hands. I believe that this can only be achieved by ordinary Mexican citizens mobilizing, the AD in Michoacán showed what can be done in only a very short period of time).
A particularly intense offensive against the Los Zetas cartel, who are based in this State among others, managed to kill or capture most of their leadership between 2012 and 2015. But the imprisonment or death of these leaders has had little effect to help safeguard security in this area.
A test of how bad things have become was seen in March of this year, when a narco manta threatened the wholesale murder of innocent civilians if the Government did not stop the extradition proceedings of Z-40 and Z-42. Since then, other narco mantas have repeated the threat and killings have increased. "Our lifestyle here has changed completely", said a shop owner anonymously.
The man admitted to paying piso to the cartels in exchange for protection for his business, but he still lives in fear. He is in contact with his family all the time through a whatsap group, where situations of risk are reported on a who, when and where basis, the man said that one of his uncles was killed by Los Zetas in 2015 for no apparent reason, they came to his house, lifted him and killed him, and nobody from our family can fathom a reason why.
The number of homicides in Mexico increased during the early years of Calderons offensive against the cartels, and then decreased slightly at the end of his six year administration and during the first years of EPN's administration. The statistics of murder have begun to increase again. According to official figures ( Otis: Chivis rule of thumb is Government figures are roughly one tenth of reality ), there were 10,301 homicides between January and June of this year. That is a 15% rise on the figures for the same period of last year, although the average of 57 murders per day remains lower than the figures for 2011, the year when the statistics reached their peak.
Many of the worst atrocities over the last decade have been carried out by Los Zetas in Tamaulipas, such as the massacre of the 72 migrants from central America who were unarmed and defenceless in San Fernando.
The Los Zetas cartel formed in the State at the end of the 1990's, when deserters from the Mexican army and the police were recruited by the leader of the Cartel del Golfo, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, the friend killer, as his personal bodyguard. They were led by Arturo Guzman Decena, El Z-1, who the army killed in 2002.
The origin of the cartels name is surrounded in myth, of which the more common is that there is nothing after the letter Z. Others claim it is taken from the Mexican Special Forces GAFE radio call signs which start with the letter Z. The name infuses so much fear in parts of the country where these is a strong presence of Los Zetas, that locals will not say their name but will refer to them as "la ulitma letra" or the last letter.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, know as Z-3, was in charge of feeding that reputation when he replaced Z-1 as leader, and lead the group to independence from the Cartel del Golfo.
When Los Zetas broke away from the Cartel del Golfo in 2010, it triggered one of the worst cartel wars on Mexican soil, which shows no sign of abating. They waged war and continue to do so in Tamaulipas. These battles resulted in an especially focused effort to topple the leaders of Los Zetas. ( Otis: I don't believe the Mexican government has EVER made any serious effort to take down either the CdG or Los Zetas, as they are much more concerned with lining their own pockets than protecting Mexican citizens, and only interfere with the cartels when the civilian populace is on the verge of breakdown, or a Cartel leader is not paying the Government their piso.)
The Mexican Marines killed Z-3 in 2012. This left the cartel under the control of Miguel Trevino Morales, El Z-40. It is believed that his capture was as a result of internal problems that triggered the current crime wave in Ciudad Victoria, where the Zetas have kept a strong domain of criminal control of local authorities.
That is terrorism in every sense of the word
"A group want to win control, and another group does not want to relinquish its control", said an official of the State of Tamaulipas, born and raised in Ciudad Victoria, who once served in the Mexican Army.
A State police officer , who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, identified one of the factions of Los Zetas as the Cartel de Norte, allegedly lead by Kiki, also known as Kiki Trevino, a nephew of Z-40 and Z-42. The other faction is called Grupo Bravo, also known as Escuela Vieja or old school Z. The names give justice to the idea that this is a generational fight between old and new leaders, but the reality is it is a territorial fight and that the lack of strong leadership to keep them in line.
The same holds true for Ants, said an officer of the DEA involved in the kingpin strategy developed in 1992 to directly combat the cartel leaders, and launched by Calderon in 2006 and continued by EPN. He explains that when an Ant Queen is finished, the insects regroup and return to the nest, where another Queen Ant will take over leadership.
The result in Ciudad Victoria, added the officer is the current threats to slaughter innocent civilians, threats that have never been issued before. "That is terrorism in every sense of the word", he said.
The narco manta laid in the month of March that threatened to kill civilians randomly, unless the extradition process against the Trevino brothers was stopped, reflect the manner in which the kingpin strategy has failed the people of Ciudad Victoria.
While the Governments of the USA and Mexico trumpet the captures and extraditions of important bosses, there are many willing to step up into their places ( the hydra effect ) willing to hang out poorly written mantas threatening the Government, with Kiko as the top leader, who has made it clear that he is willing to kill as many as he has to to achieve his ambitions.
The manta threats were not covered in local press. The information filtered out through social networks, or by word of mouth in Ciudad Victoria, journalists in this area are too scared to publish these details, said a frustrated reporter from Tamaulipas.
This journalist explains further, he has stopped publishing stories about security since the violence escalated after the Zeta and CDG split in 2010. So far, the newspaper he works for just do reports on government bulletins detailing the number and place of the dead. He added that in the majority of photographs of these incidents, there are more bodies than in the actual reports.
"The people wanted to know why we were not publishing the reality of what was happening, it was not because we did not want to publish what we knew, its that its not worth risking your life by doing it."
The reporter added that it would be suicide to try and find out why armed men killed 11 people of the same family in July, four children, five women, two men and the dog of the family. One of the women and two children were USA citizens who were visiting family in Ciudad Victoria. Another 8 people were killed and 24 were injured in a shootout that same week.
The Cartel del Norte assumed responsibility for the massacre in a narco manta signed by Z-40. The text claims that the massacre was a revenge for the lack of protection that the Governor Egidio Torre Cantu owed in exchange for the bribes he received.
The manta asks Osorio Chong to come and collect the dead bodies of the civilians, and that "I will continue ordering attacks against the civil population in Ciudad Victoria".
Days after gunmen murdered five members of a another family in the same city. Authorities found the bodies, a grandmother, mother, he two children and a baby of four months old.
A teacher in Ciudad Victoria tells us that one of the murdered boys was a high school student at the school where he works, although the victim was not one of his personal students. His students aged 13-15 are fighting against the constant pressure that the violence brings, as well as recruitment efforts carried out by the criminal groups.
The professor tells that some times he has problems getting to his school due to the danger in the streets. Once he actually arrives at school, he is concerned that some of his students may be cartel members. "The problem is you cannot be strict; the students are scary and you don't know who they are, or their parents or neighbours."
The deep mistrust that permeates the city makes its inhabitants avoid going out at night and be careful what they say to whom at any time.
There seems to be no solution to the problem, he clings to the hope that a political solution can be negotiated without damage to the civil population, and laughs at the idea that any government can make Tamaulipas a state free of cartels.
"All of us hope that the new government can achieve a settlement with the bad guys, so to the cartels, let us work and let us live."