Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Tamaulipas Massacres Result of Government Inefficiency

By Adriana Gomez Licon and Katherine Corcoran
Associated Press
Bodies found thrown on the middle of a major road close to San Fernando.

With only odd jobs to support a young wife and 2-year-old son in their concrete hut on a dirt road, Uriel Carvajal decided to seek work in the U.S., heading from central Mexico by bus to the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas.

When he didn't call home, his two brothers went looking for him, also by bus. Now none of the brothers - Uriel, 21, Rene, 28, and Cirilo, 23 - has been heard from.

Nearly a month after Uriel left home, the Carvajal family only knows that his brother Rene's identification card turned up in one of 26 pits found in Tamaulipas, where 145 bodies have been dug up so far. Authorities told the family to take Uriel's toddler, Ariel, to state offices to give a DNA sample.

The same trauma visited three times on one family reflects larger questions that so far state and federal authorities have failed to answer: How could bodies pile up again in a place just 90 miles from the U.S. border where 72 migrants were slaughtered eight months ago, then the worst mass murder of innocents in Mexico's fight against organized crime?

And how could these new horrors emerge only five months after state and federal authorities announced with much fanfare that they were mounting a coordinated offensive to take Tamaulipas back from the hands of warring drug cartels?

"That is precisely the question we all have," said Fernando Batista Jimenez, an investigator for Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights who is handling the case in the town of San Fernando, Tamaulipas. "It's no more than a reflection that the authorities have not been able to contain this wave of violence in general and particularly in places such as this case in Tamaulipas."

The Mexican Navy said Saturday it had captured the presumed leader of the San Fernando cell of the Zetas drug gang, suspected in both mass killings. Martin Omar Estrada Luna, alias "El Kilo," is believed to be involved in the killing of the 145, as well as the migrant massacre last August in the violent border state across from Texas, according to a statement issued by the navy.

The Mexican government last week offered a a 15 million-peso ($1.27 million) reward for information leading to Estrada Luna's capture. The navy provided no others details Saturday.

President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday implored Mexicans to say "Ya, basta!" - Enough! - stressing that their anger should be directed at criminals and not authorities.

The line between those enforcing and breaking laws, however, has been fuzzy. On Wednesday, 16 police officers in San Fernando, where both slaughters occurred, were detained for protecting the Zetas. That led national radio talk show host Carmen Aristegui to ask on Thursday: "Which is which?"

Requests by The Associated Press to interview Calderon's security spokesman, Alejandro Poire, and officials from the Department of Interior, Defense and the Attorney General were not answered.

The Federal Attorney General (PGR) Marisela Morales speaks of the massacre in San Fernando.

But public and off-the-record statements by parties involved indicate that Tamaulipas presents a complex situation that even federal forces can't handle. Generations of mistrust complicate the federal effort, as well as links between local officials and organized crime dating back to the 1920s Prohibition era in the U.S., when the border state became a popular smuggling route for liquor.

San Fernando is the largest township area-wise in Tamaulipas, with about 58,000 people in a region roughly the size of Delaware covered with countless flat, dirt farming roads that enable people and goods to traverse undetected.

As a result, the 72 police officers there, 36 per shift, patrol less than 5 percent of the territory, according to Tamaulipas state interior secretary Morelos Canseco.

With 16 officers detained because of the recent killings, the already minimal force is down by 20 percent.

In November, Mexico's federal government said it was launching a major offensive, "Coordinate Operation Northeast," to reinforce government authority in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, the two states most heavily affected by a surge in violence following a split between the Gulf and Zetas drug gangs. Officials provided no details at the time, except to say the government was sending "thousands of units" of military and federal police.

Calderon again on Friday said he has ordered the increase of federal forces in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and parts of the neighboring states of Coahuila and San Luis Potosi without providing details, and that he would reinforce operations to ensure security for those traveling on roads and in buses.

Mexico Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora earlier in the week announced a five-point initiative to take back Tamaulipas, including the federal monitoring of transport buses.

Blake blamed the body count on weaknesses in state government, "evidence, on the one hand, of fragile local institutions' inability to act promptly and effectively in dealing with crime, and, on the other hand, the involvement of local security agents in crime."

Canseco countered to the AP Thursday that the federal government has jurisdiction over the road near the Gulf Coast leading to the U.S. border where buses were reportedly stopped and boarded by gunmen. Canseco added that federal police patrol the highway from Tamaulipas' capital of Ciudad Victoria through San Fernando to the Texas border.

State authorities know they have to clean up their security forces, Canseco said, but they haven't received needed backup from the military and federal police.

"The epithets and insults are a slippery slope," Canseco said of Blake's criticism. "The government of Tamaulipas has acted decisively against these abductions on a federal highway against passengers on a federally licensed bus line. Acts committed by organized crime, federal crimes that fall under federal authority."

Meanwhile, it remains uncertain if or when eight people detained in the August migrant massacre will be brought to justice, and 14 of the 72 bodies of Central and South Americans migrants killed then still have not been identified.

"The government never managed to find precise information about the 72 migrants," said Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. "That meant that the criminal cell that carried out the massacre remained intact and continued operating ... now we know it's a cell of Zetas, and there were large numbers of municipal police involved."

Besides Estrada Luna, the Mexican government is offering a 15 million-peso ($1.27 million) reward for information leading to the arrest of Salvador Martinez Escobedo, another alleged leader of the Zetas cell in San Fernando, plus 10 million pesos ($846,000) for Roman Palomo Rincones and 5 million pesos ($423,000) for Sarai Diaz Arroyo, who both allegedly participated in the latest massacre.

Another 17 suspects tied to the Zetas were detained earlier in the killings. Police said that some of them have confessed to abducting passengers from buses and killing them.

Prosecutors have suggested that some of the bus abductions have been attempts to forcefully recruit new members for the gang.

The bodies of 70 of those victims arrived in Mexico City on Thursday for further genetic testing to confirm their identities. Tamaulipas state prosecutors said in a statement that 23 of the 145 victims were killed at least a month before the abduction reports surfaced.

Rumors of assaults aboard buses started as early as February and later that month some bus lines stopped running after 9 p.m. The price of tickets on regional bus lines from the Tamaulipas state capital of Ciudad Victoria through San Fernando to northern border cities started rising in recent months from 190 pesos ($16) in November to and 265 pesos ($23) by March, leading locals to speculate that the bus companies were trying to cover possible extortion costs.

The first anonymous complaint of a kidnapping, however, came in around March 22, a day before Carvajal left his picturesque mountain village of 2,000.

Canseco said not a single bus line filed a complaint. National or regional bus companies refused to comment on the Tamaulipas case to the AP.

But states around the country have called Tamaulipas in the last week with reports of missing persons from buses there. Many, like Carvajal, were traveling to the border region hoping to cross into the U.S.

Carvajal only finished sixth grade and worked informal jobs raising cattle for ranchers and making tortillas in a factory. His hometown was largely rural, where men plow fields of corn and alfalfa with horses, while others commute to Mexico City to work in construction.

Carvajal's wife, Veronica Duran, 21, said he was going to meet a brother already working in the U.S. The family didn't know Tamaulipas was such a dangerous place when the brothers left five days later to look for him. They weren't certain enough that he was missing to call police.

The Carvajal family made a pact not to talk about their case, reluctantly providing a few details. But Duran said she's holding onto hope that her husband won't be found in the graves of San Fernando.

"We'll continue to believe he's not there," she said, "until we know for sure."

Associated Press writers E. Eduardo Castillo and Mark Stevenson in Mexico City and Efrain Klerigan in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, contributed to this report.


  1. I have seen rumors and comments from around different blogs and websites from people in that area and they say there are thousands of people buried in mass graves around that area...

  2. They traders – seditionist-Terrorist they are attempting to take down the Government. The should be tied in military courts and when found guilty summarily executed

  3. the problem are not the criminals. The problem is the corruption in the system. Mexico has no honest leaders who care for the People. They only care for themselfs. Culture established by our proud pri.

  4. Well thousands in mass graves does not sound that far fetched with over 5000 missing nevermind the people that have not even been reported as missing.

    There will be saddening discoveries to be made for years to come.

  5. I ran a resort in that area for 20 years, and believe me, this is the tip of the iceberg.

  6. "the problem are not the criminals."

    It is that very attitude that has got Mexico where it is now... Please stop spreading that lie...

  7. Corruption since the 20s how do you reform a culture of crime that gained acceptance of the people because they were screwing the gringo,which is A-OK by Mexico standards. Now crime is out of control but Z-something is your cousin your friend, and Gulf something is your cousin, so lets play dumb and protect our people. THIS IS MEXICO,they suffer because they earned it. Its OK because they are killing Salvadorians, Hondurans ( same as GRINGOS) What a group ??

  8. @ April 17, 2011 6:52 PM

    You are so wrong. The criminals will ALWAYS be there just like in the US where you live comfortably. Here in Mexico there is no authority to control this activity. There is no authority to turn to for help, or to protect the citizens. Here you cannot call the police to report activity because you will be killed.
    Do you know anything about living here in Mexico or do you just like to spew nonsense like most Americans who are equally clueless?

  9. I live in Mexico most of the time,but not in a city,and I am painfully aware of what you are talking about,there is almost no law in many places,maby most,and what law there is is corrupt. I can't fix it I am an American? Such a beautiful country, with so much promise,held down and destroyed by a culture,way of life,where lying,manipulation,stealing,taking advantage of any situation,is accepted daily life,Mexico needs to change,FOR THE SAKE OF MEXICO.

  10. "The Tamaulipas Massacres Result of Government Inefficiency "

    LOL! That is an understatement. What we are witnessing is not government inefficiency but the end state of a govenment founded on socialist principles. Principles which embody lawlessness in that the taking of other people's property (either through taxes or "nationalization") is a virtue and that the law should not be equally applied (a country of men not law).

    Good luck to you mexicans if you continue with this form of government! The only thing that awaits you is slavery.

  11. "Here in Mexico there is no authority to control this activity. There is no authority to turn to for help, or to protect the citizens. "

    This "authority" got their powers from YOU the people. Rights/duties come from God to the INDIVIDUAL. You then gave that authority to the corrupt socilaist government. It is no one's duty (even law enforcement) to protect you and your family except yours! Start fullfuling this duty, require that your rights be restored (like owning a gun) and get to work cleaning up your country. If you think it is the government's job to protect you then you will be a slave.

  12. The last two idiot know nada Right Wing USA commentators have been stupidly calling Mexico a socialist country.... How these bobos can think of PAN and Calderon as heading up socialism Mexico truly defies comprehension by sane people.

    See AnonyMoe 10:23
    "The Tamaulipas Massacres Result of Government Inefficiency "
    LOL! That is an understatement. What we are witnessing is not government inefficiency but the end state of a govenment founded on socialist principles.'

    and AnonyMoe 10:28
    'This "authority" got their powers from YOU the people. Rights/duties come from God to the INDIVIDUAL. You then gave that authority to the corrupt socilaist government.'
    PAN and Calderon are parties of the Mexican Right, Mexican business community, and the Catholic Church, not having anything to do with socialism. God you Right Wing US paisano folk are true morons! Can't believe that so many of my neighbors are such clods?????

  13. @April 18, 2011 10:28 AM

    How stupid can you be?
    Are you telling me that if you are walking home from a club with you girlfriend and some thugs jump you and rape your GF you are not going to look to the authorities for help?
    If some punk steals your $1,000 sound system from your Cadillac Escalade you are not going to cry to the police for help?
    I suppose you will just take you gun and prowl the streets looking for the "poor sob that took my sounds dude"

    You Americans make me sick with your holier than thou attitude.

    And what's this? "Rights/duties come from God to the INDIVIDUAL." An imaginary man in the sky has given me rights? LO fucking L.

  14. I am an American and although I do not know much about the culture of Mexico, I truly believe that someday, the children of these victims will never forget what happened to their families and someday they just may grow up and teach these killers a lesson and the killers will have no to blame but themselves.

  15. Carvajal's case is a very unfortunate case like so many others. Hopefully, nothing like these massacres will happen again. The Mexican government and the federal government should collaborate in order to stop organized crime from becoming rampant in Tamaulipas.


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