Things you don’t expect to see on your commute

September 22, 2011

Such as a drug gang dumping 35 bodies on the highway:

Suspected drug traffickers dumped 35 bodies at rush hour beneath a busy overpass in the heart of a major Gulf coast city as gunmen pointed weapons at frightened drivers. Mexican authorities said Wednesday they are examining surveillance video for clues to who committed the crime.

Horrified motorists grabbed cell phones and sent Twitter messages warning others to avoid the area near the biggest shopping mall in Boca del Rio, part of the metropolitan area of Veracruz city.

The gruesome gesture marked a sharp escalation in cartel violence in Veracruz state, which sits on an important route for drugs and Central American migrants heading north.

The Zetas drug cartel has been battling other gangs for control of the state.

Prosecutors said it’s too soon to draw conclusions from the surveillance video.

“We’re not going to confirm or deny anything,” Veracruz state Attorney General Reynaldo Escobar Perez told the Televisa network Wednesday. “We’re looking at it in different ways, we’re seeing different numbers, that’s why we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

Escobar said the bodies were left piled in two trucks and on the ground under the overpass near the statue of the Voladores de Papantla, ritual dancers from Veracruz state. He said some of the victims had their heads covered with blackplastic bags and showed signs of torture.

Authorities said each of the victims (including apparently a cop who had gone missing) had criminal ties, so this looks like one gang, maybe the Zetas, taking out the soldiers of another gang and throwing it in their rivals’ faces.

But it’s also a slap in the face to the Mexican federal and state governments, mocking their authority and denying their sovereignty. Doing this while the city hosts a major judicial conference says, in no uncertain terms, “We rule here, not you. Fear us.” And that’s exactly what the people do, as they lose faith with each atrocity in Mexico’s ability to protect them and render justice.

These aren’t just bodies; these are thirty-five more milestones on the road to a failed state.

RELATED: Was this a message to Los Zetas from a new cartel? (Graphic pic warning.)

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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Mexico: their pain is our gain?

August 13, 2011

Well, it apparently is at least in Deep South Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, whereto many Mexican businesses are relocating to escape the violence just south of the border:

“If you think about South Texas, we’re like a big thumb sticking into Mexico. We have access to the port, through rail; it’s an ideal place to be,” says state Rep. Aaron Pena.

Our thumb has a giant shield.

“It’s about security, and it’s about proximity to markets,” says Pena.

Pena says he has seen a change in the Rio Grande Valley. Manufacturing workers don’t want to go south of the Rio Grande.

“What’s great here is that we provide the security of our state, our military, our institutions. They’re all here. It makes it a better place,” says Pena.

“It is disturbing to go through this on a daily basis; it’s almost like working for a funeral home,” says Miguel, who worked at a maquiladora.

The cost of business is more than what is in the bottom line. Cartels cut off supply routes and hijack drivers. Companies have to pay different organizations to move their goods. It’s no longer worth the risk.

“They think that maybe the things will get better over in Mexico, but in the meantime, they’re put their roots here,” says state Rep. Veronica Gonzales.

Even the lower cost of labor in Mexico is less and less able to make up for the lack of security. And while it’s to the benefit of McAllen and other parts, it also points to a spiraling problem in Mexico: as the jobs leave, those left without work will either have to go to other parts of the country to find a job, come north (probably illegally), or make what money they can in their own region, perhaps by working for the cartels.

I honestly don’t think this is to the long-term benefit of the American side of the Valley, either. If you think of the border region as a neighborhood with the actual boundary being the street running down the middle, then “broken windows” on one side are eventually going to degrade the other. And we’re already seeing plenty of incidents of cartel crime and violence on “our side of the street.”

The failure of the Mexican state to provide security along their northern border leaves the gunmen as the only real winners.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


How would you react if you saw severed heads in your neighborhood?

April 10, 2011

As violence in the cartel wars grows worse in Mexico, more and more Mexican families are sending their children to school in the United States. For school officials in border districts, this means having to deal more and more with children suffering severe mental and emotional trauma from the horrors they’ve witnessed. In the El Paso Independent School District, counselor Susan Crews describes having to deal with children who’ve been through Hell:

In border cities, it’s common for students from Mexico to go to school in the U.S. Some were born in the U.S. but raised in Mexico, and their families feel they’ll have better opportunities if they go to an American school.

But in recent years, motivation to cross the border has changed. Horrific drug-related violence in Mexico is forcing some families to flee, often in a hurry.

Susan Crews, lead counselor for the El Paso Independent School District, has seen what witnessing that violence can do to a child.

“I have students whose mothers have been decapitated,” Crews says. “I have a student in one of the middle schools — when he visited his family in Juarez there were three heads on sticks along the path were he goes.”

Crews is a grandmotherly figure who wears her hair in a bow-shaped bun atop her head. She says never in her 43 years as a counselor has she encountered such hellish stories.

“The counselor had contacted me because this eighth-grader was having a trauma reaction,” Crews says. “He was not able to control his bladder; he was not sleeping at night.”

Crews is the woman the district sends when there’s a major trauma at a school. In the past two years, she’s responded to the deaths of four students — all killed in Mexico.

“My experience has been atrocious,” she says. “I mean it’s just been overwhelming in my opinion.”

Perhaps a measure of the scale of the problem, Ft. Hood Ft. Bliss in El Paso has been offering training in counseling those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder — the kind they offer to soldiers returning from a war.

And now children from Mexico.

EDIT: Fixed a careless mistake.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Baghdad on the border?

March 5, 2011

Veterans of Baghdad or other Iraqi cities from just a few years ago might feel a disquieting sense of déjàs vu on reading this report:

“All-out fighting” was reported Friday afternoon in several areas of Matamoros, sources with knowledge of criminal activity there said.

Officials at the three international bridges in Brownsville said they were open as usual.

At approximately 5 p.m. gunmen began fighting each other along Calle Sexta, one of Matamoros’ main avenues, and also hijacked tractor-trailers and other large vehicles to block off main roads to keep the Mexican military away, stated a Mexican law enforcement official.

The blocked roads included the Calle Sexta and Calle Canales area, Calle Primera and Lauro Villar, Sendero Nacional, Marte R. Gomes, Avenida Manuel Cavazos Lerma, Calle Sexta and Diagonal, and Cuauhtemoc.

Heavy fighting was reported along Calle Sexta and Sendero Nacional. The fighting reportedly lasted more than two hours. The number of casualties was not available at press time Friday.

Chases between the Mexican navy and members of a criminal organization also were reported on the Avenida del Niño.

(via Borderland Beat)

But that wasn’t Baghdad or Mosul or Baquba. It was in Matamoros, just over the border from Brownsville, Texas:

And this isn’t just an isolated incident in one torn up border city. Battles like these are taking place in towns all along the border, as cartels fight each other and the Mexican military — when the latter aren’t working for the cartels. Juarez at the other end of the border with Texas recently saw the massacre of 14 people in gangland hits on bars and nightclubs. The situation has grown so dangerous for residents that many are fleeing their homes and abandoning their farms, leading to wholesale depopulation in some places:

A violence-ridden stretch of Mexico’s border with the United States has become virtually deserted due to intimidation from violent drug cartels, which have killed hundreds in that area in recent years, scared away local law enforcement and forced countless businesses to close shop.

Northern Mexico’s Juarez Valley, a cotton-farming area located on the southern bank of the Rio Grande, has become increasingly desolate, with its three towns having lost between 30 percent and 45 percent of their residents since 2005, according to census figures.

The exodus is blamed on the ever-growing presence of the Juarez cartel, headed by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, and the Sinaloa mob, led by Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman, in that coveted drug corridor, where army patrols are intermittent and the occasional rumble of a late-model SUV carrying several heavily armed men is a stark reminder of who is in control.

According to some experts, the cartels want to empty the area completely to facilitate their drug-smuggling operations.

All of which is leading to an increasing number of refugees, both internal and those who flee north.

But it’s not a national security problem for us. Hey, people are still planning to go there by the thousands for spring break! What could go wrong?

I think I’d feel safer taking mine in Baghdad.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


The war down south

February 27, 2011

Here’s some data to chew on this Sunday evening, while America’s biggest narcissists engage in a public act of self-congratulation. In the last year, more civilians have died in Ciudad Juarez than in all of Afghanistan:

More civilians were killed last year in Ciudad Juarez, the Mexican city across the border from El Paso, Texas, than were killed in all of Afghanistan.

There were 3,111 civilians murdered in the city of Juarez in 2010 and 2,421 in the entire country of Afghanistan.

On a per capita basis, a civilian was 30 times more likely to be murdered last year in Juarez, where there are 1,328,017 inhabitants according to Mexico’s 2010 census, than in Afghanistan, where there are 29,121,286 people according to the CIA World Factbook.

The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan was compiled by the Congressional Research Service and published in a CRS report released on Feb. 3. The number of civilians killed in Juarez was compiled by Molly Molloy, a research librarian at New Mexico State University who maintains a count of murders Juarez and published it on the Frontera List Web site. Molloy’s work on civilian murders in Juarez was also referenced in a recent CRS report on Mexican drug cartels.

Much of the violence in Juárez is sparked by drug trafficking organizations battling over one of the major smuggling corridors into the United States.

In other words, you’re safer in Kabul 7,500 miles away than in Juarez, just over the border from El Paso.

But there’s nothing to be concerned about.

via Fausta

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


ICE agent murdered in Mexico “by mistake”

February 24, 2011

Makes all the difference in the world, you see? They didn’t mean to ambush and gun down two American officials: it was a case of mistaken identity:

Mexican soldiers arrested six men Wednesday who they say carried out last week’s ambush murder of U.S. Special Agent Jaime Zapata.

The suspects told authorities they believed Zapata and his partner Victor Avila — who was wounded in the attack – to be members of a rival gang because of the vehicle they were driving. Those arrested belong to a cell of the Zetas, the violent criminal gang headquartered in the cities bordering south Texas.

Officials identified the group’s leader as Julian Zapata Espinoza, alias “El Piolin,” or “Tweety Bird,” who they said directed a Zeta assassination cell in the state of San Luis Potosi, where Zapata was killed Feb. 15.

(…)

Zapata, 32, an ICE special agent, was fatally shot when at least eight armed men in two vehicles ran his official embassy car off the Pan American highway about 500 miles south of the Texas border at Laredo. Avila was shot but survived the assault.

“They [the alleged shooters] said this was due to a case of misunderstanding because the car they were driving was the type used by a rival band,” Trevilla, the military spokesman, said of the suspects.

The agents’ car had official diplomatic plates, and they had identified themselves as diplomats to their assailants.

I’m sure their families will understand. Nothing personal, you know.

This isn’t the first time Los Zetas have said “Ooops! Our bad!

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Even for Juarez, this is bad

February 21, 2011

While our eyes are riveted on revolution in the Islamic world and the struggle between labor unions and representative democracy in Wisconsin, the cartel wars in Mexico rage on — 53 dead in Juarez in the last three days:

The El Paso Times reported Monday that the 53 victims, between Thursday and Saturday, included a police officer, a municipal patrolman and a state investigator.

A shootout Thursday in Juarez, across the border from El Paso, left a police officer and two alleged hit men dead. Chihuahua police identified the slain officer as Ricardo Torillo Sandoval.

Later Thursday, state police investigator Jesus Manuel Cruz Landin was shot and killed on his way home. A suspect has been arrested.

On Saturday, Patrolman Benjamin Nunez Nunez was shot and killed by a driver at a traffic stop.
Juarez Mayor Hector Murguia said Saturday that police will keep fighting crime.

I’m sure that’s reassuring to the people of your city, Mr. Mayor, since you’ve done such a bang-up job, so far.

MEANWHILE: You may have a hard time catching a taxi in Acapulco, since a dozen cabbies were killed over the weekend:

At least 12 taxi drivers were murdered during the weekend in Mexico’s touristic coastal city of Acapulco, Guerrero, officials said Sunday.

On Friday, five taxi drivers were found dead in or around their vehicles, and on Saturday, one driver was found dead and tied to his taxi with several gunshot wounds. Later that evening, two others were found shot dead inside their vehicles, one of them being decapitated.

In a separate incident, a group of gunmen opened fire against another taxi cab, killing the driver and three passengers.

The killing spree continued into Sunday, and reached the touristic areas of Acapulco. Five vehicles were set on fire and a chopped up body was later discovered in an apartment building

But there’s no security problem just past our southern border…

Remind me to take my next vacation in some place safe, like Baghdad.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)