"We are left with a lot of disappointment and suspicion," said Miguel Angel Matiano, a union leader for judicial employees in Veracruz who is lobbying for protection for his members. "What interests, what ties … do the politicians have? You can't take justice into your own hands, but if you don't trust the authorities, you will turn to the other group."
"You don't know who's who these days," added a local television broadcaster who did not want to be named for fear of his safety.
Whoever the Zeta killers are, Veracruz city seethes with terror and panic. The streets in this port town, normally bustling with night life, begin to empty around dusk. Marines based in Veracruz patrol the neighborhoods, conducting house-to-house searches, moving in convoys, dressed in battle camouflage and black balaclavas. Parents rush to pull their kids from school at the faintest rumored hint of an attack. About 30 families from the business elite have fled the city, one knowledgeable resident said.
"There has always been violence, but it was hidden better," said Father Luis Felipe Gallardo Martin del Campo, the bishop of Veracruz. "Now the lid has been blown off."
Even Calderon, in a startling admission, said last week that the state of Veracruz had been "left in the hands of the Zetas."
The deterioration of Veracruz illustrates the way drug gangs have extended their stranglehold from border states to Mexico's center. Calderon this month has also felt obliged to send troops into Guerrero state, on the nation's opposite coast, where traffickers have forced schools to close for weeks and the body count has skyrocketed, all but destroying tourism to that state's coastal jewel, Acapulco.
More than 40,000 people have been killed in the expanding drug war since December 2006, when it began, according to government intelligence figures.
The government of Veracruz has sought to minimize the horror the state is living, or cast it as part of a broader national phenomenon for which local officials are not responsible.
"Law must prevail, and it is the state that must apply it," state government spokeswoman Gina Dominguez said in an interview.
Yet state officials have only exacerbated the uncertainty and suspicion by hiding information on new fatalities and claiming with excessive haste that most of the first batch of 35 dead were criminals. In fact, neither Gov. Javier Duarte nor state Atty. Gen. Reynaldo Escobar, who made those claims, had that information. The city's top newspaper, Notiver, later reported that the majority did not have criminal records. Escobar has since been forced to resign.
Among the dead were girls ages 15 and 16. Another victim was a well-known local transvestite, and two others were 15-year-old buddies from a rough neighborhood called Playa Linda, or "pretty beach," though it's anything but.
Rocio Velazquez told reporters she had last seen her son, Alan, when he was picked up by police a short time before his body was dumped. She said that she saw police detain Alan and a friend on an errand to buy feed for Alan's chickens, and that she tried to approach but the cops threatened to shoot her if she got closer.
"Where is the government? What is happening here? What is it all about?" Velazquez said to reporters. "There is more chaos, killing everywhere.... Who is behind all the slaughter?"
Velazquez told her story to three Mexican reporters from Mexico City, including one from MVS Radio, who found her at the Veracruz morgue. Often it takes Mexico City's national reporters, or foreign reporters, to do the journalistic investigation that local reporters are afraid to do. Four Veracruz journalists have been killed since March, including a prominent columnist shot to death along with his wife and son.
The three Mexico City reporters returned to the morgue the next day to continue their search for information. Veracruz police beat them up, they said, and seized or erased their tapes and photographs.
Full coverage: The drug war in Mexico