In Mex­ico, mas­sacre of fam­ily un­der­lines surg­ing vi­o­lence

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

COATZACOALCOS: The bul­let-rid­dled bod­ies of the Martinez chil­dren were found on a bloody floor, hud­dled next to the corpses of their par­ents in a rented shack. The fam­ily of six was mas­sa­cred, au­thor­i­ties be­lieve, be­cause the Ze­tas car­tel sus­pected the fa­ther, an un­em­ployed taxi driver, had played some part in a ri­val gang’s at­tack that killed a Zeta gun­man. The re­sponse un­der­lines the no-holds-barred tac­tics of drug gangs that are splin­ter­ing and bat­tling one an­other for con­trol in much of Mex­ico, which re­cently recorded its high­est monthly mur­der to­tal in at least 20 years.

De­spite Pres­i­dent En­rique Pena Ni­eto’s prom­ises of a safer na­tion when he came to of­fice five years ago, the vi­o­lence is out­pac­ing even the dark­est days of the drug war launched by his pre­de­ces­sor. “It has taken on the pro­por­tions of a ring of hell that would be de­scribed in Dante’s ‘In­ferno,’” said Mike Vigil, for­mer chief of in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tions for the US Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion and au­thor of the book “Deal.” “Their strat­egy was strictly go­ing af­ter the king­pin . ... That was pretty much not the way to go be­cause, you know, you cut off a head and oth­ers take its place,” Vigil added.

“You have weak in­sti­tu­tions, weak rule of law, weak ju­di­ciary, mas­sive cor­rup­tion, par­tic­u­larly within the state and mu­nic­i­pal po­lice forces, and all of that con­trib­utes to the es­ca­lat­ing vi­o­lence.” In the first five months of 2017, there were 9,916 killings na­tion­wide - an in­crease of about 30 per­cent over the 7,638 slain dur­ing the same pe­riod last year. In 2011, the blood­i­est year of the drug war, the fig­ure for the same Jan­uary-May pe­riod was 9,466.

In some places the blood­shed has ac­com­pa­nied the rise of the up­start Jalisco New Gen­er­a­tion car­tel and the breakup of the once-dom­i­nant Si­naloa car­tel into war­ring fac­tions fol­low­ing the ar­rest of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guz­man, who was ex­tra­dited to the United States in Jan­uary. At least 19 peo­ple died in turf bat­tles pit­ting Guz­man’s son, brother and for­mer al­lies against each other late last month in the western state of Si­naloa, ac­cord­ing to in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

In the north­ern bor­der state of Chi­huahua, shootouts last week be­tween Si­naloa gun­men and the gang known as La Linea killed at least 14. In the Gulf Coast oil city of Coatzacoalcos, Ver­acruz Gov. Miguel An­gel Yunes said the slay­ing of a top gun­man in late June prompted the Ze­tas to kill the en­tire Martinez fam­ily: Cle­mente; his wife Mar­ti­mana; 10-year-old Jo­celin; Vic­tor Daniel, 8; An­gel, 6; and Na­homi, 5. All died in the house where they washed cars for $1 each.

‘La mana’

“They didn’t have any­thing, not even fur­ni­ture. They slept on the floor,” grand­mother Flora Martinez said, sob­bing. “I don’t un­der­stand why they did this, why they did this to my lit­tle ones. They were in­no­cent, they didn’t know any­thing.” For years it was un­der­stood that the Ze­tas were un­touch­able in this part of the state. Just ask So­nia Cruz, whose son was killed in Coatzacoalcos in July 2016 in a case that re­mains un­solved. “They (po­lice) told me that when ‘la mana’ (drug car­tels) are in­volved, that’s where they stop in­ves­ti­gat­ing,” Cruz said.

But last year’s elec­tion of Yunes, the first op­po­si­tion can­di­date to win the gov­er­nor­ship from the long-rul­ing In­sti­tu­tional Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Party, may have bro­ken old al­liances be­tween crim­i­nals and cor­rupt of­fi­cials. The new gover­nor has shown some will­ing­ness to go af­ter the Ze­tas: The lo­cal car­tel leader who al­legedly or­dered the Martinez killings, known as “Co­man­dante H,” was ar­rested a few days af­ter­ward. Yunes said the man had “op­er­ated with ab­so­lute free­dom in Coatzacoalcos since 2006” and ac­cused busi­ness­peo­ple in the city of act­ing as fronts for ill-got­ten prop­er­ties that ac­tu­ally be­longed to the gang­ster.

Raul Ojeda Banda, a lo­cal anti-crime ac­tivist, said that some were forced to go along with the scheme: “Some were pres­sured, threat­ened.” Vi­o­lence in the area has also been ex­ac­er­bated by Jalisco car­tel in­cur­sions and other pres­sures that have threat­ened key sources of in­come for the Ze­tas. Part of “Co­man­dante H’s” busi­ness model in­volved large-scale kid­nap­ping for quick ran­som, with tar­gets rang­ing from lo­cals to oil work­ers to Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants whom gang mem­bers tor­tured to ex­tort pay­ments from rel­a­tives in the United States.

But the Ze­tas ab­ducted so many lo­cals that those who were able moved out of the city, and those who re­mained be­gan block­ing off their neigh­bor­hoods at night to keep kid­nap­pers out. An oil in­dus­try slump amid low crude prices re­sulted in fewer en­ergy work­ers around to prey upon. And sud­denly there were fewer mi­grants as well. Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion dis­cour­aged some from try­ing to reach the US and oth­ers avoided south­ern Ver­acruz for fear of be­ing at­tacked.

“The vast ma­jor­ity of them are robbed. It is a lucky one who isn’t,” said priest Joel Ireta Mun­guia, the head of a Coatzacoalcos mi­grant shel­ter run by the Ro­man Catholic Church. He es­ti­mated the num­ber of Cen­tral Amer­i­cans pass­ing though the city has de­clined by al­most two-thirds. The wave of vi­o­lence has also touched re­gions that were long seen as peace­ful. The Jalisco car­tel is be­lieved to have al­lied with a fac­tion of the Si­naloa gang in a war for the Baja Cal­i­for­nia Sur state cities of Los Ca­bos and the nearby port of La Paz.

Dis­mem­bered bod­ies, sev­ered heads and clan­des­tine graves have now be­come al­most rou­tine in the once-placid re­sorts. Dwight Zahringer, a Michi­gan na­tive who lives in an up­scale neigh­bor­hood in Los Ca­bos, said one vic­tim was found at the en­trance to his neigh­bor­hood re­cently. “That was more of a mes­sage that the narco-traf­fick­ers wanted to de­liver, sort of to say, ‘We can come right up into your Bev­erly Hills and dump dis­mem­bered bod­ies on your doorstep,’” Zahringer said. “I’m from Detroit. We’re used to see­ing crime. But heads be­ing left in cool­ers - that’s a lit­tle ex­treme.”

—AP

MEX­ICO: In this photo, Is­abel Oso­rio Luna, the great-grand­mother of the mur­dered Martinez chil­dren walks past home­made con­crete crosses be­ing painted to adorn the sim­ple tombs of the fam­ily of six, in Coatzacoalcos, Ver­acruz State, Mex­ico.

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