Welcome to Cartel City

That Mexico is wracked by violence as the federal government battles drug gangs and the gangs battle each other isn’t really news anymore; around 23,000 people have died since 2007, and I’ve written before about violence in Mexico’s northern border cities, as well as the possibility of it spilling over to our side. Secretary of State Clinton recently referred to this drug war as an insurgency, something the Mexican government loudly denounced.

But what do you call it when the central government loses control of a city to the drug cartels? Residents of Reynosa, Mexico, might well agree with Secretary Clinton:

“It’s hard to be sure when the Gulf cartel gained the power over the city that it has now; it didn’t happen in a single blow, reporters said. Most traced the change to three or four years ago. Before then, the cartel ran a kind of parallel government from which it strongly influenced institutions such as the police and the city government. Reynosa Mayor Oscar Luebbert Gutiérrez did not respond to written questions submitted by CPJ, but journalists say the cartel is fully embedded in the government and gets nearly whatever it wants. “

Journalists are not allowed to print stories without the cartel’s consent first. The cartel even has its own Website where it publishes stories that are okay to cover under its guidelines  (They don’t print the site’s url, though.)  There is a gun battle nearly every day in Reynosa, yet they largely go unreported by the media who have been threatened or killed for reporting on the violence.

“The editor said journalists also know what it means to go against the cartel. “They will abduct you; they will torture you for hours; they will kill you, and then dismember you. And your family will always be waiting for you to come home.” In a chilling illustration of the traffickers’ brutal enforcement methods, three Reynosa journalists disappeared in March and are now feared dead. Colleagues said the three could have done something to anger either the Gulf cartel or the Zetas, or have gotten caught up in the warfare by doing favors for one of the groups.”

The situation is so bad, according to journalist Melissa del Bosque, that gangs even hijacked trucks and used them to block the local Mexican Army base, effectively sealing troops inside to prevent them from intervening in a battle in Reynosa between rival cartels wielding assault rifles and grenades.

And that’s right across the bridge from the US city of McAllen, Texas.

Mexican President Profirio Diaz once famously said “Poor Mexico. So far from God and so close to the United States.” Nowadays he might phrase it “Pobre Mexico – y triste Reynosa!”

RELATED: Reynosa and McAllen feature in an excellent book I read recently, Robert Lee Maril’s “Patrolling Chaos.” Professor Maril spent the better part of two years riding with the agents of the Border Patrol station in McAllen and studying its operations. Far from being a dry academic work, it’s fascinating reading with compelling portraits of the people and the area. I plan to do a fuller review soon, but, for now, take this as a strong recommendation for anyone interested in border issues, illegal immigration, the Border Patrol itself, and Deep South Texas in general.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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6 Responses to Welcome to Cartel City

  1. [...] Reynosa, at the other end of the Texas-Mexican border from Juarez, is described as being under the open control of the Gulf and Zeta cartels, which are battling over the city like pirates over a captured woman, [...]

  2. [...] is dead center. To the west is Torreón, while to the east is Reynosa, both of which I’ve written about before. North lies Nuevo Laredo, where things have become [...]

  3. [...] Colombia’s war with leftist guerrillas and allied drug cartels, including the loss of state sovereignty over territory. Secretary of State Clinton made a similar observation, causing a minor diplomatic [...]

  4. [...] challenges such as “just staying alive.” Of course, when the cartels can trap even the Mexican Army in one of its bases, what a mere patrolmen supposed to [...]

  5. [...] have increased 60% in just a year. The border city of Reynosa actually saw the Mexican Army trapped on its base as rival cartels fought a gun battle in the streets. The State Department has warned Americans to [...]

  6. [...] have increased 60% in just a year. The border city of Reynosa actually saw the Mexican Army trapped on its base as rival cartels fought a gun battle in the streets. The State Department has warned Americans to [...]

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