By ALFREDO PEÑA and FABIOLA SANCHEZ, Associated Press
CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico (AP) – The Mexican president has vowed to investigate the border shootings that left 19 people dead over the weekend, even as the latest homicide figures showed a rebound in killings at the nationwide.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the evidence indicated that 15 of the victims were innocent bystanders. The other four dead were suspected gunmen from a group that traveled to the northern border town of Reynosa and opened fire indiscriminately.
“Everything indicates that it was not a confrontation, but rather a commando team which fired at people who were not involved in any conflict,” said López Obrador.
The state government of Tamaulipas, where Reynosa is located, said in a statement that there was evidence the killings involved “organized crime,” which in Mexico is commonly used to refer to drug cartels. Cartels in the Reynosa region are increasingly involved in smuggling migrants or charging protection fees to migrant smugglers.
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Raymundo Ramos, who heads one of the state’s most active human rights groups, said he believed the murders were linked to the June 6 elections which chose new mayors for Reynosa and most from other Mexican cities.
“This is clearly an act of post-election terror directed against the residents of Reynosa, and possibly a warning to the rest of the Tamaulipas townships,” Ramos wrote. Drug gangs in Mexico rely heavily on intimidation or co-opting of local governments to extort money or gain protection from municipal police.
Reynosa is located across the border from McAllen, Texas, and has been the scene of fighting between factions of the Gulf Cartel. But these disputes typically target gunmen or rival security forces. The dead in Saturday’s attack included taxi drivers, workers and a nursing student.
On Monday, federal prosecutors said they were taking charge of the case, in which a suspect was arrested. The attorney general’s office said the attack was “the result of territorial disputes between gangs in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas and the cartels operating in Reynosa.” Rio Bravo is located just east of Reynosa.
Authorities are still investigating the motive, although in the past drug cartels have sometimes used random killings of civilians to increase pressure on rival gangs or intimidate local authorities.
López Obrador has promised “a full investigation”.
María Elena Morera, director of the civic anti-crime group Common Cause, said many people have grown used to such violence.
“Mexicans have gotten used to all of these atrocities, with no real reaction,” Morera said. “In the face of so much violence, people prefer not to let the pain in and turn away.”
Saturday’s murders in Reynosa, and the latest nationwide homicide figures, suggest that López Obrador’s criminal strategy of “hugs, not bullets” does little to reduce the killings.
There were 2,963 homicides in May, the last month for which figures are available, higher than May 2020 and well above the numbers that prevailed when López Obrador took office in December 2018.
The government says homicides are down 2.9% in the first five months of 2021 from 2020, but that may be because January and February of this year were marked by the worst wave of coronavirus. in Mexico, when public activities were reduced.
“It’s nothing,” Morera said of the fall. “It’s like you keep a patient in a coma and then tell them they’re doing great. “
Tamaulipas Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca called the victims of Reynosa “innocent citizens” and said: “Criminal organizations must receive a clear, explicit and forceful signal from the federal government that there will be no room. for impunity, nor tolerance for behavior. “
García Cabeza de Vaca belongs to the rival National Action Party and himself is under investigation by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office for organized crime and money laundering – charges which he says are part of the plan of López Obrador’s government to attack him as an opponent.
Local businessman Misael Chavarria Garza said many businesses closed early on Saturday after the attacks and people were very scared when helicopters flew over.
On Sunday, he said that “people were calm as if nothing had happened, but with a sense of anger because now the crime has happened to innocent people.”
The attacks sparked a deployment of the military, National Guard and state police across the city.
Criminal activity in the region has long been dominated by the Gulf cartel and there have been rifts within this group. Experts say there has been an internal struggle within the group since 2017 to control key territories for drug and human trafficking. Apparently, a cell from a nearby town may have entered Reynosa to lead the attacks.
López Obrador sought to avoid confrontations with the drug cartels, at one point freeing a prominent trafficker to prevent bloodshed. He prefers to focus on underlying social issues like youth unemployment.
Earlier this month, López Obrador praised the drug cartels for not disrupting the June 6 midterm vote, even though three dozen candidates were killed during campaigns.
“People who belong to organized crime have behaved very well, in general there have been few acts of violence on the part of these groups,” said the president. “I think the white collar criminals have done worse.”
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