Tamaulipas: Mexico’s Graveyard


We all know about Juarez’s nightmare – the murders and mayhem as the government and drug gangs destroy one another  — all the bloodshed over the lucrative right to sell drugs to the Norte Americanos. But the state of Tamaulipas, our neighbor to the south, is rapidly becoming the new tragic drug war story –infamous for its mass graves.

In early April,  officials from Mexico’s Ministry of Defense stumbled upon some of these mass graves – so far 116 bodies — after families complained that relatives, mostly men, were being kidnapped at gunpoint from passenger buses traveling on the main interstate from San Fernando to Matamoros.

If you’re not familiar with San Fernando – it was once a sleepy little town in Tamaulipas, just 80 miles south of Brownsville,  that’s now become a living hell and a battleground for the warring Zeta and Gulf cartels.

Last August, the Mexican military stumbled upon 72 bodies there, bound and executed.  An 18-year old Ecuadorian migrant who survived the massacre told officials that it was Los Zetas that had kidnapped the group of Central and South American migrants then executed the men and women after they refused to work for the cartel.

In January, Nancy Davis, 59, a Christian missionary from the Rio Grande Valley, was fatally shot on the highway near San Fernando by gunmen. Also, a UT Brownsville student was killed on the same highway during an alleged robbery on the bus he was riding. For the past year, U.S. and Mexican motorists have also reported having their SUVs and trucks stolen at gunpoint near San Fernando.

Now, entire busloads of people are being kidnapped on the same highway, and if they refuse to be soldiers in the bloody cartel war, they are killed and dumped in clandestine graves. So far, the Mexican government has counted 116 bodies, and there will certainly be more.

So imagine the surreal nature of the Mexican government’s “security meeting” yesterday and press conference to update the media on the mass graves. There’s Francisco Blake Mora, Mexico’s Interior Minister, standing next to Egidio Torre Cantu, governor of Tamaulipas, whose own brother was killed in a massacre last year as he campaigned for the state’s governorship. A case that was never solved or even really investigated.

Well not to worry, Blake said, the government is sending army troops and federal police to guard the highways around San Fernando “Until all the criminals involved are arrested.”

It’s nice they finally noticed.

But it’s curious, that Mexico’s President, Felipe Calderon, instead of grieving with his own people over the mass disappearances and deaths, is on the defensive.

In a meeting yesterday in Torreon, Calderon tried to deflect the country’s growing discontent with the drug war by criticizing a protest movement that has grown around the well-known poet and journalist Javier Sicilia, whose 24-year old son was murdered by the cartels two weeks ago. Mass protests against Calderon’s Drug War have sprung up in cities across Mexico in the past two weeks to protest the mounting number of deaths – more than 35,000 – since Calderon started his war against the cartels in 2006.

The protesters  should be criticizing the criminals not the government, he said.

“We should not confuse things,” Calderon said, “Those who are doing the killings are criminals, those that kidnap and kill migrants are criminals; and those who threaten large parts of our society and territory are criminals.”

The criminals should be condemned, but Calderon never asked the Mexican people if they wanted a bloody drug war either – one that is ripping apart the country’s social fabric.

The Ya Basta and  No Mas Sangre movements and others like it are a welcome sign of life in a country that’s had too much death. Mexicans are finally mobilizing and saying enough is enough. If anything, Calderon should welcome the movement, because it will probably be Mexico’s only victory during his long and troubled presidential term.