Drug car­tel’s gun bat­tle leaves Mex­i­can town gripped in fear

The Peterborough Examiner - - CANADA & WORLD - MARIA VERZA

VILLA UNION, MEX­ICO — A small town near the U.S.-Mex­ico border be­gan clean­ing up Mon­day, gripped by fear af­ter the killing of 22 peo­ple in a fe­ro­cious week­end gun­bat­tle be­tween drug car­tel mem­bers and se­cu­rity forces.

A 72-year-old woman liv­ing near Villa Union’s city hall re­counted how she hud­dled with two of her grand­chil­dren in­side an ar­moire dur­ing the shoot­ing.

The street in front of her home was lit­tered with shell cas­ings, and her walls and door were pocked with bul­let holes.

“I’m still trem­bling,” she said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity out of fear for her safety. “We’ve never seen any­thing like this. It was as if they just wanted to sow ter­ror.”

Around mid­day Satur­day, armed men in a con­voy of dozens of ve­hi­cles ar­rived in Villa Union and be­gan shoot­ing up city hall. Many of the ve­hi­cles were em­bla­zoned with the car­tel’s ini­tials — CDN, for Car­tel del Noreste, or North­east Car­tel — as were the at­tack­ers’ bul­let­proof vests.

Coahuila Gov. Miguel Riquelme said state se­cu­rity forces ar­rived within an hour and sur­rounded the town, about 60 kilo­me­tres south­west of Ea­gle Pass, Texas.

Six­teen gun­men were killed, along with four state po­lice of­fi­cers and two civil­ians, he said. On Mon­day morn­ing, the town of about 6,000 peo­ple was strewn with burned-out ve­hi­cles, and the city hall’s fa­cade was so rid­dled with bul­let holes it looked like a sieve.

City worker Juan Garza swept up bro­ken glass and rub­ble out front. In­side, bro­ken glass cov­ered the floor, a cru­ci­fix had fallen from a wall, fur­ni­ture was de­stroyed, and por­traits of lo­cal politi­cians were pierced by bul­lets.

Out­side lay a burned SUV, a shot-up am­bu­lance and a yel­low school bus with CDN spray­painted on the side.

Shops nearby cleaned up rather than open for busi­ness. De­spite the pres­ence of sol­diers and fed­eral po­lice pa­trolling the quiet streets, no one sent their children to school, and no res­i­dents wanted to give their names for fear the at­tack­ers could re­turn.

“They wanted to send a mes­sage” to the state gov­ern­ment, Riquelme told the Mex­i­can net­work Ra­dio For­mula.

He said the North­east Car­tel, based in nearby Ta­mauli­pas state, has made 15 at­tempts to es­tab­lish it­self in Coahuila since he be­came gov­er­nor two years ago.

“We have not per­mit­ted the en­trance of these crim­i­nals in our en­tity,” he said. “They thought they were go­ing to en­ter, strike and exit, some­thing that didn’t hap­pen.”

The North­east Car­tel is an off­shoot of the Ze­tas, a car­tel with roots in elite mil­i­tary units. The Ze­tas long dom­i­nated Nuevo Laredo and Ta­mauli­pas state and were known for mil­i­tarystyle op­er­a­tions and grotesque vi­o­lence in­tended to in­tim­i­date their en­e­mies.

The gov­er­nor said that all hostages taken Satur­day, in­clud­ing five mi­nors, had been res­cued. Car­tel mem­bers had taken some lo­cals with them as guides as they tried to make their es­cape along back roads.

Of the 25 ve­hi­cles seized, four car­ried .50-cal­i­bre ma­chine­guns. Dozens of homes were dam­aged.

Mex­ico’s homi­cide rate has in­creased to his­tor­i­cally high lev­els this year. Af­ter a string of mas­sacres, crit­ics have charged that Pres­i­dent An­drés Manuel López Obrador’s gov­ern­ment does not have a co­her­ent se­cu­rity strat­egy.

López Obrador was to meet on Mon­day with about 30 rel­a­tives of the nine women and children, all dual U.S.-Mex­i­can cit­i­zens, killed by a mem­ber of the Juarez car­tel in the border state of Sonora in Novem­ber.

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