By Gerardo Tena
MEXICO CITY – Violence attributed to organized-crime groups has left at least 40 people dead in recent days, mainly in parts of northeastern and southeastern Mexico.
The area most affected by the latest spate of violence has been the northeastern Gulf coast state of Tamaulipas, where authorities said 19 people have been slain and eight wounded in clashes that either pitted the armed forces against cartel gunmen or rival gangs against one another.
The battles mainly occurred in cities along the eastern part of the U.S.-Mexico border, where fearful parents began keeping their children home from school beginning Tuesday.
Tamaulipas prosecutor Jaime Rodriguez said Wednesday that the gun battles took place between Sunday and Tuesday, resulting in the deaths of 19 people, including a municipal police officer, while six police are reported as missing.
Rodriguez said that in the wake of the violence a council made up of Tamaulipas authorities and federal security officials has been set up to analyze the situation and design strategies to combat the violence, although he did not indicate which groups may be behind the clashes.
Elsewhere, in the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon, five suspected cartel hit men died Wednesday in a shootout with soldiers in a rural town, a military spokesman told Efe.
The spokesman said the clash occurred near the main square in the town of Los Ramones, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the industrial city of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon’s capital.
The shootout occurred when an army convoy patrolling the town came under fire from gunmen hiding inside a business. The troops repelled the aggression and a 30-minute gunfight ensued.
Separately, local media reported that a group of cartel enforcers traveling in SUVs kidnapped at least 12 people in the neighboring town of China.
The same criminal gang is believed to be behind the incidents in both Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.
Nuevo Leon prosecutor Alejandro Garza said Wednesday that soldiers and police were deployed to the border with Tamaulipas after it was confirmed that the Gulf cartel and “Los Zetas” – a band of deserters from the Mexican special forces whose used to work as enforcers for that drug mob – are now fighting each other.
He added that another shootout occurred Wednesday afternoon in the town of China, where a policeman died and another was wounded.
Separately, in the southern state of Oaxaca, roughly a score of armed assailants traveling in seven Hummers killed 13 people Tuesday night – eight of whom were police from different forces and five civilians, it was confirmed Wednesday.
The civilians were residents of Vicente Camalote, a town located near the border with the neighboring Gulf state of Veracruz.
Meanwhile, the bodies of two men were found inside an SUV in the upscale Mexico City section of Bosques de Las Lomas. The press reported that a message was left inside the vehicle, which suggests the killings were a settling of scores.
Amid the spiraling violence, President Calderon vehemently denied Wednesday that his government – which has deployed tens of
thousands of army soldiers and federal police to numerous hotspots to battle the cartels – was protecting the Sinaloa drug mob.
That accusation had been leveled by a lawmaker with Calderon’s own National Action Party, or PAN, and rivals of the Sinaloa gang, which is led by Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive, Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman.
In recent days, PAN legislator Manuel Clouthier said the “alleged war against the cartels” has not been waged in Sinaloa, bastion of the like-named drug cartel and birthplace of Mexico’s leading kingpins.
“I find it incredible that when we’re capturing criminals of the stature of ‘Teo’ (Teodoro Garcia Simental, a powerful drug-gang leader in Tijuana), who was allied with ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s cartel, they say the government is protecting that cartel,” Calderon told a press conference on Wednesday.
At least six large drug-trafficking organizations operate in Mexico, the most powerful being the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels.
Calderon, who was inaugurated in late December 2006 for a six-year term, has deployed 45,000 soldiers and 20,000 federal police to the country’s most conflictive areas to battle the drug gangs.
His government has scored some high-profile victories against the cartels, including Garcia Simental’s arrest in January and the killing of drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva in December.
Gulf cartel kingpin Osiel Cardenas, who was arrested in 2003 and extradited to the United States in 2007, was sentenced Wednesday to 25 years behind bars by a court in Houston, Texas.
The judge in the case also ordered the seizure of $50 million from the convicted drug lord.
But drug-related killings have only accelerated since Calderon militarized the struggle against organized crime.
Armed groups linked to Mexico’s drug cartels murdered around 1,500 people in 2006 and 2,700 people in 2007, with the 2008 death toll soaring to more than 6,000.
Last year, according to the El Universal newspaper, was the deadliest in Mexico in the past decade, with 7,724 people killed in violent incidents attributed to organized crime groups.
So far this year, drug-related violence has claimed the lives of more than 1,400 people, the daily says. EFE