Rival gunmen blocked roads near the US border and strung up threatening banners on Saturday after Marines killed one of Mexico’s top kingpins, and Washington reaffirmed its support for the country’s drug war.
Gunmen used buses and trucks to block roads in Reynosa, a Gulf cartel stronghold across the border from McAllen, Texas, and west of Matamoros, where Marines on Friday shot dead gang leader Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta” Cardenas.
In an apparent riposte from rivals, gunmen from the Zetas gang hung messages between trees and over bridges in Reynosa and in cities across northeastern Tamaulipas state, mocking Cardenas’ death.
“Once again, the Gulf traitors’ destiny is evident ... there’s no place for them, not even in hell,” one banner that was signed by the Zetas read.
Fighting broke out between gunmen and soldiers in Reynosa and two assailants died on Saturday, newspaper El Norte said.
US President Barack Obama rang Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Saturday “to reaffirm United States support for Mexico’s efforts to end the impunity of organized criminal groups,” the White House said in a statement.
More than 31,000 people have been killed across Mexico since December 2006, when Calderon took office and launched his cartel crackdown. The government is under increasing pressure to contain the burgeoning death toll.
Soldiers and federal police across the region quickly broke up the roadblocks in Reynosa and took down the banners, but many residents were still wary of revenge attacks, as the Zetas, the former armed wing of the Gulf cartel, try to capitalize on the weakened state of their erstwhile employers.
Some people ventured out on the streets of Matamoros on Saturday, walking past buildings with fresh bullet holes from Friday’s gunfights. However, the US consulate was closed and its weekend visa services were postponed until further notice.
Tamaulipas has witnessed some of Mexico’s most shocking drug war violence this year, including the murder of a popular gubernatorial candidate — Mexico’s highest-level political murder in 16 years — the massacre of 72 migrant workers, bombs hidden in cars and slain youths strung from bridges.
“It’s a huge relief to know that Tony Tormenta has been eliminated, his gangsters were everywhere. But we’re still worried because they’ll find another boss, and who knows what the Zetas will do,” a supermarket worker in Reynosa said, giving his name as Oscar.
Underscoring the widespread nature of the violence, the mayor of a town in the northwestern state of Durango was beaten to death by masked gunmen on Friday, state prosecutors said.
San Bernardo Mayor Jaime Lozoya, who had just taken office and was driving along a highway with aides and his daughter when he was attacked, was one of at least 18 mayors killed in Mexico since 2008. His predecessor fled the town last year after receiving threats from drug gangs.
Gulf kingpin Cardenas’ was the fourth top drug baron to be killed or captured in Mexico since December of last year in a string of coups for Calderon’s army-led drug war.