05/08/14 (written by callison) — Tamaulipas, a border state in Northern Mexico, continues to be a hot spot of organized crime and drug related violence. According to multiple sources, at least 41 victims of such violence were killed within the last week of April and first week of May, while more than 70 such deaths were confirmed in April alone. April 29 saw the most casualties, with 17 victims killed in multiple gunfights between suspected organized crime groups (OCGs) and federal forces in the city of Reynosa, which shares a border with McAllen, Texas. Proceso reports that several criminal organizations, specifically Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel (Cartel del Golfo, CDG), have increasingly implemented a strategy of street blockades (narcobloqueos), with members stationing themselves in high trafficked areas within Reynosa to ambush federal and local authorities as they pass through.
The Gulf Cartel in Tamaulipas has recently experienced a shakeup in leadership, with the arrests of two high ranking CDG leaders: Jesús Alejandro Leal Flores, alias “El Metro 24” or “El Simple,” on April 2; and Javier Garza Medrano, alias “Comandante 14,” in late February. Many argue that the resulting power vacuum is the root cause of the increased regional violence as intra-cartel fighting has ensued. According to Al Jazeera America, one example of such violence was the rift between Medrano and rival CDG member Aaron Rogelio García. Medrano allegedly ordered the killing of García after he was suspected of providing information that led to Medrano’s arrest. At García’s funeral on April 3, suspected CDG gunmen opened fire, killing García’s wife, brother, and sister-in-law, according to an anonymous official. In turn, reports Al Jazeera America, CDG members loyal to García responded by killing 28 people in four days in the municipalities of Tampico and Ciudad Madero, 14 of which were executed in a matter of just five hours.
Meanwhile, fights between officials and OCGs, both through narcobloqueos and official operations to apprehend cartel leaders, have also ensued. One such operation in the Altavista neighborhood in Ciudad Victoria on May 5 led to the arrest of five Los Zetas members—Oscar de la Sota Eliud Gallegos, Baltasar Abraham Camarillo, Leija Esteban Ruiz, Karina Hernandez Guevara Nayely, and Mayte Ruiz Candelaria Leija—though the intended target, Zetas leader known as “Cabeza de Marrano,” was not located. The coordinated effort between State Police and members of the Army and Navy, however, did result in multiple sustained injuries, and the death of six individuals, including the head of investigations for the State Police (Policía Estatal Acreditable), Salvador Haro Muñoz. El Grupo de Coordinación Tamaulipas (GCT) confirmed that the clash was the culmination of an investigation conducted by Haro Muñoz to capture Zetas’ leader Cabeza de Marrano.
Citizens within Tamaulipas are continuing to turn to social media outlets for knowledge and news on breaking violence and the narcobloqueos. El Universal reports that “Valor por Tamaulipas,” a Twitter and Facebook group with over 150,000 followers that reports on daily violence and instability in the region, for example, urges citizens to avoid the violent areas if at all possible, and to have a plan in place when gun battles occur. The increased violence has had a clear psychological effect on citizens and their perceived safety, evidenced by reports of high absentee rates in schools, upwards of 70% as reported by El Universal, as students are staying home to avoid the risk of being caught in a firefight. Meanwhile, Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) is keeping a close eye on the situation. It recently launched an investigation into the violence on April 29 that killed 17 people in Reynosa, two of which were minors who happened to be caught in the crossfire between OCG members and federal forces.
Ultimately, authorities attribute the dramatic spike in violence to three sources: intra-cartel fighting within the CDG; inter-cartel fighting between the CDG and the rival Zetas; and the CDG’s confrontations with police and members of the military, particularly through the narcobloqueos and official operations. Nevertheless, high-ranking Mexican officials have pledged to continue the fight in Tamaulipas to restore public security. In a recent statement, Mexico’s Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam expressed, “The state has not been abandoned. It requires another kind of strategy, an appropriate one for Tamaulipas, [and for] Tamaulipas’ conditions. That is what we will soon have.” Meanwhile, the day after the May 5 operation that killed State Police Director of Investigations Haro Muñoz, Tamaulipas Governor Egidio Torre Cantú reassured civilians that the spike in violence is the result of cartel reactions’ to the state’s security strategy.