Mexico border violence watch: Brownsville, Texas

February 8, 2011

Battles between Los Zetas and their former bosses in the Gulf Cartel in Matamoros prompt increased patrols on the Brownsville side of the border:

Brownsville Police and Border Patrol Units are on increased patrols near the (Brownsville & Matamoros) Bridge after reports of violence inside Mexico.

Mexican soldiers have been called in to restore the peace.

It all started around 5:00pm. Mexican officials say the Gulf Cartel set some Zeta money houses on fire near the B&M Bridge.

Two hours later, sources inside Mexico tell CHANNEL 5 NEWS two grenades were thrown at a hotel near the bridge.

A little later, the Mexican Army showed up to “restore order.”

When you have to send in the soldiers, that’s more than a police problem.

 

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Failing State Watch: Nuevo Laredo police chief gunned down

February 4, 2011

Tamaulipas Governor Egidio Torre came into office on New Year’s Day vowing to fight the corruption and criminal violence tearing his state apart. One of his first acts was to appoint retired general Manuel Farfán as police chief of Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Laredo, Texas, and one of Mexico’s most violent cities.

Less than a month into his job, Chief Farfán was shot dead on the streets of his city:

Gunmen killed the recently appointed police chief of Nuevo Laredo late Wednesday in a brazen response to the new governor’s vow to restore order to the violent Mexican state bordering south Texas and the Rio Grande.

Manuel Farfán, 55, a retired army brigadier general, was shot down on a downtown street shortly before midnight. At least one of the general’s police bodyguards and his personal secretary also were killed.

Farfán was one of 11 retired army generals recently named to head municipal police departments across Tamaulipas state. He took office with the change of city and state governments on Jan. 1.

Upon taking office New Year’s Day, Tamaulipas Gov. Egidio Torre had vowed that his government would put an end to the state’s “cruel, unjust and difficult” wave of violence.

“The people of Tamaulipas want to trust again,” said Torre, who was elected following last June’s assassination by gangsters of his brother, the gubernatorial candidate of the state’s long ruling party.

“We are going to diminish violence at its root causes and extinguish impunity,” he said.

Aside from expressing condolences to Farfán’s survivors and dispatching the commander of the state police – also a retired army general – neither Torre nor other senior Tamaulipas officials commented on the assassination Thursday.

The killing is comment enough: one theory is that Chief Farfán refused to be bought or or play along with the Zeta cartel, whose “territory” Nuevo Laredo is, and they decided to show what happens. Another is that he was killed by the Gulf Cartel, which is at “war” with its former vassals and may have considered the Chief a threat to their efforts to take Nuevo Laredo back.

The killing of Chief Farfán is just the latest sign of the breakdown of the rule of law in Mexico, but he, at least, made it almost a month; in 2005, Nuevo Laredo Chief Dominguez was killed just hours after being appointed.  As the article mentions, the entire police force of one small town near Monterrey quit after two of its officers were beheaded, and the police chief of Cancún was tortured and killed in 2009 by one of his own men, who was in the pay of the local cartel. Local and state police officers are either intimidated, corrupted, or assassinated. As I’ve said before, when the State can’t even protect its own, words such as “sovereignty” and “rule of law” are meaningless.

It’s small wonder that some colleges are canceling their study-abroad programs in Mexico.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Cartel Wars: 25 dead in Ciudad Juarez

September 15, 2010

…in three hours:

Drug-related violence continues to consume Ciudad Juarez in northern Mexico, just across the border from El Paso. Last Thursday’s toll of 25 killed over a three-hour period rattled a city that is already accustomed to numerous deaths a day.

It was the highest single-day toll recorded in the border city since the violence erupted there more than two years ago. Victims in Thursday’s shootings range in age from 15 to 67. They were mostly ambushed inside their homes, reports the El Paso Times.

Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said the killings were believed to be acts of retaliation by the Juarez cartel for an alleged kidnapping of a child by the rival Sinaloa cartel. What’s not clear is what all those victims had to do with the alleged kidnapping.

Does it matter why, anymore? Public safety is all but nonexistent in several Mexican cities thanks to the gang wars and the government’s failures to rein them in. 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, while the Mexican Army sits by, impotent.

Not only is there the human tragedy of people living in fear of their lives from bloodthirsty criminals, but what happens on their side of the border affects us, too. Not just from illegal immigration as people understandably look for a safer place to live, but also physical security. Already cartel violence is spreading into our cities. Do we have to wait for another raid on Columbus to take our border problems seriously?

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Welcome to Cartel City

September 9, 2010

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)