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Another bloody week rocks Mexico as drug battles rage

Two are killed during the wake of a cartel founder's grandson. At least 46 others die in later attacks nationwide.

June 09, 2007|Hector Tobar | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — In the dark early-morning quiet of a funeral parlor here, with a group of mourners praying before the coffin of a 10-year-old boy, another horror-filled week in Mexico's drug-trafficking wars began.

The boy had died in a drowning accident some days earlier that surely had nothing to do with drug trafficking. But his grandfather was Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, the fugitive founder of the Tijuana cartel.

Just after 4 a.m. Monday, as many as six hooded gunmen interrupted the traditional all-night wake, shooting two people to death.

Before they left, the "commandos" (as one newspaper here described them) had scribbled Zs on the victims' backs, a symbol of the Gulf cartel.

By week's end, at least 46 more people would be dead in a dizzying variety of attacks across Mexico, including hand-grenade assaults and decapitations, mainly targeting police, federal agents and rival drug traffickers.

The killings offer a window into the scope of the violence and the tactics of psychological warfare that are often behind it. Many of the deaths appear to involve disputes between competing bands of traffickers. At least one of those bands appears to be splitting into at least two different groups.

On Tuesday, authorities in Tuxtepec, a city in the southern state of Oaxaca, discovered a severed head with a note nearby. "This is going to happen to all the people who work with the Zetas," the message read, referring to the hit men who work for the Gulf cartel. The message was signed, "Sincerely, the New Blood."

The "New Blood" probably refers to a group of Gulf Cartel operatives who have turned against the Zetas as members of the organization bid to control trafficking routes and local drug markets. Genaro Garcia Luna, Mexico's secretary of public safety, said last month that the Gulf cartel had split into rival bands.

At a recent news conference, Garcia Luna said the wave of extreme violence was part of a plan by drug traffickers to force authorities into a "strategic retreat."

"They are trying to create a climate of intimidation and fear ... in order to gain operational advantages," Garcia Luna said.

If the residents of a rural town or urban neighborhood come to believe that the drug traffickers cannot be defeated, they will refuse to cooperate with the authorities and create a "social space" of support for the traffickers, he said.

News of ever-more spectacular and gruesome killings has become a hallmark of the drug war this year. Every day this week, new tales of gangland violence have filled the newspapers and airwaves.

On Wednesday, authorities discovered a decapitated body left with a message for state police in the Gulf of Mexico port city of Veracruz. The message accused police of protecting rival drug traffickers and said the decapitated man had been selling street drugs for a rival group.

Four other people were killed in and around Veracruz on Wednesday. One was a funeral director who in May had transported the body of Efrain Torres, an assassinated Zetas leader, to a cemetery in the city of Poza Rica. Torres' body was later stolen from its crypt.

Also on Wednesday, business owner Roberto Moguel Martinez was kidnapped by armed men after being released from a hospital where he had been recovering from wounds suffered in a May 31 attack. His mother wrestled briefly with his kidnappers on a busy street in the center of the city, according to the Veracruz newspaper Notiver. He has not been seen since.

On Thursday, there were three grenade attacks on two police stations and an army barracks in the southern state of Guerrero. In all, seven people were killed in apparent drugrelated attacks there, authorities said.

By Friday morning, the websites of Mexico City newspapers reported that as many as 20 people had been gunned down nationwide in drug-related violence during the previous 24 hours. The dead included three people shot on a highway in the northern state of Durango.

All this happened during a week when President Felipe Calderon traveled to Europe to meet with Pope Benedict XVI and other leaders. On Monday in Rome, Calderon told reporters that U.S. consumers were to blame for the drug-driven chaos in his country.

"I have argued that this is a shared problem between the United States and Mexico," he said. "The principal cause ... is the use of drugs. And [the U.S.] is the prime consumer in the world."

Calderon has sent the army into several Mexican states to fill in for over-matched and corrupt local police.

On Monday, three army officers and 16 soldiers were ordered detained in the shooting deaths of three women and two children at a rural, anti-smuggling checkpoint in the western state of Sinaloa. The five were members of a family returning from a wake. Military officials said they had failed to stop at the checkpoint.

For many, the shooting was more evidence of the war psychology gripping many corners of Mexico; about 1,200 people have died in the violence this year.

Writing in the newspaper Reforma, columnist Sergio Sarmiento said the Sinaloa incident proved that innocent people were being killed in the drug war.

"The idea that drug dealers and the people close to them are the only people caught up in the violence we are living in Mexico is a silly lie made up to keep the population calm," Sarmiento wrote. "We are in the midst of war ... a struggle in which two sides face off without any concern or thought about the civilian population."

Carlos Martinez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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