Monday, May 12, 2014

On the border: Tamaulipas, now a virtual Michoacán II

A fierce regional drug war rages on near Texas, as locals implore Mexico City for help

Guadalajara -
Just as the administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto can claim with some degree of credibility that things have finally taken a turn for the better in Michoacán, where self-armed citizens managed to evict a violent drug cartel which held a stranglehold over many communities for years, the border state of Tamaulipas is now demanding his full attention. A rising security crisis there may be every bit as severe, if not worse.

Over the past month drug war violence has exploded in Tamaulipas, which lies minutes away from places like Brownsville and McAllen, Texas. The main participants are Los Zetas - still Mexico's most feared organized crime group, for its outrageous atrocities - and the Gulf Cartel. Los Zetas dump 49 bodies in Nuevo Léon.

Since April almost 80 people have been killed in Reynosa, Matamoros, Tampico and the state capital of Ciudad Victoria, including a high ranking police official and his two armed escorts who were ambushed on May 5 by narco sicarios - cartel execution teams. On Thursday an undersecretary of government in the 18th month old PRI administration made implicit reference to both states, referring to them as "local crises." Mexico says insecurity costs $16.6 billion USD annually, 50 lives a day.

The stakes are high for the competitors, because enormous amounts of narcotics cross the border every year, paid for with coveted U.S. dollars. DEA tells Congress, Mexican drug cartels hard at work in Colorado and Washington; American military commanders call U.S. drug policy hypocritical, and confusing to Latin America. One analyst contends that almost 50% of all drugs sold annually in the U.S. cross the border at Nuevo Laredo or Reynosa.

This week Secretary of Government Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong - Mexico's virtual vice president and Peña Nieto's most important cabinet office - will announce the details of a new federal security plan for Tamaulipas, just as he did for Michoacán Jan. 13. But Marines are already pouring into hot spots throughout the state, to assist local law enforcement departments which are incapable of containing the violence, or which in many cases have been thoroughly corrupted by cartel infiltration efforts.

To be sure, Peña Nieto has already recorded numerous strategic successes in the state, but nothing seems to have worked and nothing seems to have changed.

On July 15 Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales - the Zeta's highest ranking member, of whom it was said "all lived in terror of his fury" - was captured by Mexican troops in Tamaulipas. Top Los Zeta boss, Z-40, arrested near Nuevo Laredo.

Two months later Mario Armando Ramírez Treviño, boss of the Gulf Cartel, was taken into custody not far away. Mexican army captures leader of Gulf Cartel.

And on Friday one of the original founders of Los Zetas was killed in a shootout with federal forces in Reynosa, Mexico's Commissioner of National Security (CNS) acknowledged in a press conference this afternoon. Galindo Mellado Cruz, 41, was one of six persons who died in the intense gun battle, which also claimed a soldier.

Mellado, known as Z-9, was a Mexican military deserter who helped to found Los Zetas years ago when the group was still in the service of the Gulf Cartel, providing security and escort services for that cartel. But in 2010 the Zetas declared their independence, detonating a horrific rivalry between the two organizations in Tamaulipas and other states, as the Zetas became successful players in their own right in the narcotics trafficking, kidnapping and extortion industries.

Meallado was under federal investigation in at least 13 criminal cases, including multiple homicides, the CNS said today.

Despite the deaths or capture of top bosses, regional narco violence in Tamaulipas has not abated, as cartel subordinates have moved quickly to replace their fallen leaders. Indeed, that remains the chronic pattern of Mexico's now 77 month old drug war, launched in December 2006.

Tamaulipas residents are demanding action by Mexico City, contending the state government is unable to protect them. When Michoacán governor Fausto Vallejo - a weak and ineffective PRI pol who shoulders considerable responsibility for everything that went wrong in his state - boasted last week that Michoacán is safer than Tamaulipas, more than a few were annoyed. But Vallejo spoke the literal truth. That's why thousands of tamaulipecos conducted a March for Peace over the weekend in Tampico to protest insecurity, an issue which Osorio Chong will address in remarks scheduled for Tuesday.

In the meantime Mexico City is plainly interested in avoiding another uprising of civilian militias such as occurred in Michoacán in early 2013 - a spontaneous citizen movement that wreaked havoc and caused more than a little embarrassment for Enrique Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party government, which, despite official claims to the contrary, finds its hands full with drug war violence. At 14 months of PRI administration, 21,258 drug war dead.

May 14 - In an excellent analysis, this Mexican journalist offers a contrary view, arguing the history and motivation of organized crime is very different in the two states. Tamaulipas no es Michoacán.

May 14 - And this one argues that the glory days of the Zetas (in Tamaulipas and elsewhere) and the Caballeros Templarios (in Michoacán) have passed. Zetas y Templarios, Michoacán y Tamaulipas.

May 13 - Feds announce security plan for bleeding Tamaulipas
Feb. 17 - Mexicans have greater confidence in their military forces than any other public institution

Dec. 31 - Violence against Catholic clergy reported in border state of Tamaulipas
June 4 - U.S. Marine kidnapped in Tamaulipas is still missing

June 8 - 14 corpses left at a Tamaulipas city hall
June 5 - U.S. State Dept. Warning to Americans in Mexico - issued June 4, 2012
Mar. 31 - U.S. Consulate in Matamoros, Tamaulipas issues Emergency Warning for Americans

Bloody narco violence strikes Rio Grande border town of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, May 4, 2012

© MGR 2014. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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