MEXICO CITY – Authorities have made “significant progress” in the investigation of the deaths of 28 people in an attack on a bar in the Mexican Gulf state of Veracruz, the state’s attorney general said Thursday.
Several other people remain hospitalized in serious condition following the fire-bombing of the club in Coatzacoalcos, Jorge Winckler told Radio Formula.
Though the federal Attorney General’s Office assumed direction of the probe Wednesday night, Winckler said all of the information uncovered so far points to a settling of scores between rival criminal gangs operating in the port city of Coatzacoalcos, which is a hub of Mexico’s oil and petrochemicals industry.
Veracruz has been plagued by a turf war between rival drug cartels.
Officials blame the majority of the killings on the Zetas and Jalisco Nueva Generacion outfits as they battle for control of Veracruz, which is Mexico’s third-most populous state and coveted as a key drug-trafficking corridor to the United States.
On April 19, 14 people were massacred during a birthday party in Minatitlan, Veracruz.
The El caballo blanco bar was attacked around 10:00 pm Tuesday by assailants who opened fire with automatic weapons on the people in the packed establishment before tossing fire bombs inside, officials said.
Most of the deaths were due to burns and smoke inhalation, Winckler said.
He also weighed-in on the controversy created Wednesday when state Gov. Cuitlahuac Garcia said on social media that the ostensible main suspect in the attack, identified as Ricardo N, alias “La Loca,” had been arrested in July and released in less than 48 hours by state prosecutors.
Winckler’s office issued a statement late Wednesday denying the governor’s claim.
Ricardo N, according to the state AG Office, was detained in July and placed at the disposition of the Veracruz delegation of the Mexican federal AG Office.
“A tragedy must not be used to distort facts or confuse public opinion,” the Veracruz prosecutors said, adding that the suspect was subsequently arrested Aug. 7 and later released – again without the knowledge or involvement of the state AG Office
Asked about the flap by Radio Formula, Winckler said that Gov. Garcia was inexperienced and getting bad advice from people close to Government Secretary Eric Cisneros.
The Veracruz attorney general said investigators established the attack was carried by four people, adding that both his team and the federal AG Office had ruled out the involvement of Ricardo N.
In a video posted online Wednesday, “La Loca” said he wasn’t even in Coatzacoalcos at the time of the attack.
The massacre in Veracruz state “saddens and degrades us as a society, government and country,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday.
The leftist head of state, who took office last December, said that his administration will look at all possible means to ensure that the tragedy in Coatzacoalcos is not repeated.
Lopez Obrador acknowledged that Mexico is struggling to subdue violent crime.
“It’s a problem that was allowed to grow,” he said. “It will take time, but we will resolve it.”
In 2019, Mexico got off to the bloodiest start to a year ever, with a total of 8,493 murders registered in the first quarter, the highest number of killings in such a period since 1997, when the government started keeping murder statistics.
A total of 20,135 murders occurred during the first seven months of this year, or an average of 95.8 murder cases per day, official figures show.