Ottawa Citizen

Macabre messages multiply amid drug-related violence

With wave of violence in Mexico, the dead are often accompanie­d by calling cards

- BY KEN ELLINGWOOD

In case decapitatM­EXICO CITY • ing their victims and dumping the heads in picnic coolers didn’t make the point, the killers left a note.

“This is a warning,” it said, listing an alphabet soup of Mexican police agencies and the noms de guerre of several wellknown drug figures. “You get what you deserve.”

The message, scrawled on a poster in black ink, accompanie­d four severed human heads that Mexican authoritie­s recently found on a highway in the northern state of Durango.

The same day, police in neighbouri­ng Chihuahua state came upon five swaddled bodies accompanie­d by a hand-lettered placard.

“This is what happens to stupid traitors who take sides with Chapo Guzman,” said the message found in Ciudad Juarez, referring to Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, the supposed leader of the main drug gang in adjacent Sinaloa state.

The killers closed with incongruou­s propriety: “Yours truly,” they signed off, “La Linea.”

Amid a wave of drug-related violence across Mexico, the dead these days are frequently accompanie­d by macabre calling cards known popularly as “narco-messages.”

Part threat and part boast, the messages have multiplied as drug killings have reached record levels amid a government crackdown on organized crime and deadly turf wars among trafficker­s.

Written by hand and often with grammatica­l errors, the notes are frequently publicized in Mexican news reports and on the Internet, allowing drug gangs to deliver their fearsome messages to enemies and society at large. The messages can even serve as a conversati­on between rivals.

Five days after police in Durango discovered the severed heads, they found another head, also with a message. It was an apparent answer to the earlier killings.

“We too can respond,” the note said, according to Mexican media reports.

Analysts and law-enforcemen­t officials view the messages as a version of wartime psychologi­cal operations, lending medievalst­yle brutality a touch of 21stcentur­y media savvy.

“I’m the boss of this turf,” read a banner in Sinaloa bearing the name of Arturo Beltran, whose faction is battling Mr. Guzman’s. “And this is the beginning.”

Grisly death has long been part of Mexico’s illicit drug trade. But the frequency and brazenness of the narco-messages, including videotapes and photos of executions posted on YouTube, are a further sign that the violence has grown more savage.

Often the government’s forces are the target audience. Someone recently hung a poster mocking army troops on patrol by calling them “little lead soldiers.”

The messages keep on coming. Last month, two handscrawl­ed banners appeared in the Chihuahua state capital, also called Chihuahua. Signed by a group calling itself Gente Nueva, or New People, the hand-labelled banners contained the names of 21 state police officers.

The threat needed no elaboratio­n.

 ?? FERNANDO CASTILLO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES ?? Mexican police personnel examine the car of one of Mexico City's top police officers, Esteban Robles, who shot dead by hitmen in May. He was the the fourth top police authority slain in a 10-day period, as the toll from a rising organized crime wave...
FERNANDO CASTILLO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES Mexican police personnel examine the car of one of Mexico City's top police officers, Esteban Robles, who shot dead by hitmen in May. He was the the fourth top police authority slain in a 10-day period, as the toll from a rising organized crime wave...

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