Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Thousands more die as Mexico’s drug wars rage out of control

Despite a crackdown by the Mexican president, crime syndicates’ hold on local authorities has left the central government with no hope of exerting control

By Jo Tuckman and Ed Vulliamy  /  THE GUARDIAN , MEXICO CITY AND LONDON

After one reported gunbattle in Reynosa, the Gulf cartel hung a so-called narco-mensaje, or narco-message, from a bridge. It read: “Reynosa is a safe city. Nothing is happening or will happen. Keep living your lives as normal. We are part of Tamaulipas and we will not mess with civilians. CDG.”

The Mexican government has sent in crack units of the marines, but with little obvious success. A crime reporter from the city said he was on his way to cover a shoot-out last Thursday when traffickers called his mobile phone to warn him not to publish anything.

“They know everything about you. I don’t know how they do, but they do,” the reporter said. “If you publish anything about them they don’t like, or somebody in the government who is protecting them, then you are going to regret it, big time.”

The following day there were five gunbattles across the city, and on Saturday there were a further three. Of these, only one was referred to by the state government Web site, which promises reliable information in the vacuum about the violence. Local news outlets decided against publishing government promises to improve security after warnings from the traffickers. They self-censor complaints of abuses by the army for fear of angering the third force also battling for control of Tamaulipas.

Meanwhile, the axis of the conflict in Juarez is the attempt by El Chapo to muscle in on the turf traditionally controlled by the Juarez cartel.

In the urban nightmare of Juarez, amid closed factories and abandoned homes, the pyramids of narco-cartel power have collapsed into a state of criminal anarchy. Here gangs fight a ruthless war for the local plaza, or dealing turf. Municipal and state police forces are infested by corruption, forming mini-cartels of their own.

The role of the army in Juarez has also been called to account by a Chihuahua state human rights official, Gustavo de la Rosa, who accuses the military of playing a part in “social cleansing,” as most of the killings claim addicts and former users massacred at the city’s rehab centers.

“The difference between Juarez and Tamaulipas is that in Juarez the state still has a degree of formal presence, however incompetent,” says Edgardo Buscaglia, who specializes in comparing worldwide trends in organized crime. “In Tamaulipas the state is absent. It is like Afghanistan.”

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