McALLEN — A series of recently declassified cables, memos and government records confirm the long-held belief by many that Tamaulipas government officials work to downplay raging drug violence and that local media outlets are under the control of drug cartels.
Dozens of memos made public earlier this month by the National Security Archive — a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit — detail conversations from 2009 to 2012 among U.S. intelligence officials, consular officials and law enforcement agencies regarding the worsening security situation in Tamaulipas, including both San Fernando massacres and frequent firefights between the Gulf Cartel and its ally-turned-rival, the Zetas drug gang.
The Gulf Cartel is a crime syndicate based in Matamoros that traces its roots to the 1930s or ’40s, when the organization smuggled liquor, guns and tobacco across the Texas-Tamaulipas border. In the 1960s, the organization broke into the lucrative drug trade and became one of the leading drug cartels in Mexico.
The Zetas formed in the late 1990s as an enforcement group comprising military deserters and police officers who received training from Guatemalan special forces — known as the Kaibiles, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration records. They quickly earned a name for themselves for their brutality.
In early 2010, the Zetas split off from the Gulf Cartel, sparking a brutal turf war that continues to this day. During most of the turf war, newspapers in Reynosa and Matamoros have remained silent about the local violence, opting instead for coverage of drug battles elsewhere in Mexico. The papers also have offered a healthy dose of political stories that tend to paint northern Tamaulipas in a positive light.
Most of the information in the cables has been reported previously by major news outlets, but some of the ones sent by former U.S. Consul Michael Barkin point to the Gulf Cartel’s control of the press in Matamoros and Reynosa.
In an Aug. 26, 2010, communiqué sent to the White House’s National Security Council, the Department of Homeland Security and several other key offices, Barkin details a massacre in which the Zetas executed 72 immigrants — who were to be smuggled into the U.S. — in an effort to hurt the Gulf Cartel’s profits and to stoke fear. The then-consul further notes the widespread coverage of the events by newspapers in Matamoros, calling it “an extremely unusual event and a sign that the Gulf Cartel views publicity of the Zetas actions as useful to them.”
The 72 bodies were found in shallow, clandestine graves in the rural town of San Fernando, Tamps., about 100 miles south of McAllen.
Barkin again mentions the control of the local media by the Gulf Cartel in a Feb. 15, 2011, memo in which he describes a grenade attack by the Zetas along a popular shopping area in Matamoros that injured nine shoppers.
“The heavy coverage of the event by the CDG-controlled local press indicates Los Zetas involvement as the CDG does not allow publicity of its own activities,” Barkin writes in the memo, using the acronym for Cartel Del Golfo.
“I can’t say I am surprised by it,” said George Grayson, a professor at the College of William and Mary and author of various books on Mexican politics and drug trafficking.
The information gap in Tamaulipas emerged after drug cartels co-opted reporters, and the Mexican government worked to keep the state from looking bad, which would discourage investment, Grayson said. Even some U.S. journalists “drank the Kool-Aid” and have fallen for the illusion of democracy and prosperity in Mexico, he said. And it’s only getting worse with the country once again run by a political party known for corruption — the Revolutionary Institutional Party, or PRI, he said.
Governors are once again feudal lords, possessing the power to rule over their fiefdoms with impunity, Grayson said, adding that Mexican media continue to hammer out positive articles while the country is backsliding away from democracy.
In another wire from Barkin — this one sent April 29, 2011 — the then-consul tells key officials in the U.S. government how Tamaulipas Gov. Egidio Torre Cantu and his staff continue to downplay violence in Tamaulipas, “characterizing recent violent events as disagreeable” while trying to draw attention to commerce and tourism.
“Official statements about Holy Week Tourism have revolved around the relatively high numbers of tourists in the resort city of Tampico and safe conditions in the heavily patrolled beaches, ignoring the violence in other parts of the state,” the consul writes.
Tamaulipas officials guaranteed security for investing businesses but never explained how they planned to do so, Barkin says in the communiqué.
Barkin sent the memo in the days after Mexican authorities discovered 196 bodies in mass graves in San Fernando, which lies along one of Tamaulipas’ main highways — a road that was expected to be heavily traveled during the upcoming Holy Week celebration in Mexico, which took place from April 16 to 24.
Barkin mentions several assurances by Tamaulipas government officials about the safety of their highways, despite that “there were several major incidents of TCO violence.” TCO is short for transnational criminal organization.
The memos continue with one from April 15, 2011, placing blame on Tamaulipas officials and their constant efforts to downplay the violence, as well as claiming that cartels are the responsibility of the federal government and not theirs.
“Tamaulipas officials appear to be trying to downplay both the San Fernando discoveries and the (state’s) responsibility for them,” Barkin says in the memo. “Even though a recent trip to Ciudad Victoria revealed state officials are fully cognizant of the hazards of high way travel in this area.”
Barkin says in the memo that Mexican bus companies had yet to file an official complaint about a rash of bus hijackings in Tamaulipas by members of drug cartels.
The memo points to the PRI strategy of distancing state officials from the drug violence while placing the blame for it on then-Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who sought to fight drug cartels head-on using the military rather than trust corrupt Mexican police forces.
The drug war strategy that PRI politicians attacked so viciously during Calderón’s term is the same strategy that current President Enrique Peña Nieto has been using, not being able to do anything else, while at the same time continuing to divert attention toward tourism, the economy and a series of reforms aimed at solidifying the PRI’s power structure, Grayson said.
“It’s very discouraging,” Grayson said. “Mexican officials don’t realize they are driving the country to hell in a wheelbarrow.”
More Warnings, and Minimizing Responsibility of the acts
MEXICO CITY (07/NOV/2013.) - Four months before, the late August 2010, massacre of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas was committed, the U.S. Embassy in the City of Mexico warned the White House about the impunity with criminal groups were operating in the north Mexico, especially Los Zetas Cartel, under both local and federal authorities, reveals National Security Archive United States in a series of declassified reposrts.
"Four months before the feared Los Zetas Cartel kidnapping and murdering of 72 migrants in northern Mexico, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said that drug trafficking organization operated in the region with total 'impunity and security forces are compromised against local and federal a, "says the report.
Reports of experts and officials to the State Department and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) also point out that, after the killing of the 72 migrants in San Fernando and the in April 2011 discovery - of mass graves with at least 193 corpses, the federal government then headed by President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa tried to "minimize" their responsibility for these acts.
Altogether there are 30 wires that were revealed under the Freedom of Information Act and published by the U.S. agency.These reports offer the vision of U.S. officials and analysts the information about the extreme violence that existed then and still lives in the state of Tamaulipas, where just last weekend, a series of clashes that left 13 dead.
Declassified information is dated between August 25, 2007 and May 22, 2012.
Among the wires there is one of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, 2009, which details the "evolution and expansion" of Los Zetas, many of them former recruits of an elite unit known as the Mexican Army Special Forces Air mobile Group (GAFE).
Introducing the idea that the group "no longer operates only as the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel" but they had "established a methodology to advance into new territory and exercise control over geography, "the report said.
The strength of Los Zetas, according to the DEA , with its ability "to corrupt, intimidate and kill these factors have given the power to carry out activities throughout Mexico, "says the declassified information.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency considers that Los Zetas intensified attacks against government officials and other prominent figures, in reaction to the fight against drug trafficking undertaken by the then President Felipe Calderon. U.S. State Department cites the National Security Archive, gathered intelligence that led to the evaluation of Calderon's anti-crime strategy, which had "unintended consequences" and had contributed to a 'peak drug-related murders."
Last August, also released were a series of cables relating to the slaughter of San Fernando, including one memo by a U.S. diplomat in which it is stated that Mexican authorities tried to minimize their responsibility for this massacre .
In the information gathered by U.S. officials revealed that the Mexican federal government tried to conceal information about the growing violence unleashed by the war against organized crime "and threatened investigations into the killings by dividing the number victims" so the total number was less obvious and therefore much less alarming. "
This same file indicates possible links between government security forces and criminal organizations. It reported the arrest of 16 San Fernando policemen, on charges of "protecting Los Zetas," responsible for the murder of 72 Central American migrants.
Matamoros, Red Light, Collusion Suggestion Ahead
Among the information declassified in 2010 along with information provided by the the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, predicts that the community "would be the scene of a confrontation in the near future."
As reaction to this revelation, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said that the Mexican government had failed to predict the offensive of Los Zetas and was not prepared to deal with the violence that was to come. They said also at that time that criminal organizations were operating with "near total impunity" in Tamaulipas.
The National Security Archive says that the Attorney Generals Office (PGR) "states that there are some still people under investigation for the slaughter, but they have not released any information about ongoing investigation or if the 16 policemen arrested in April 2011 have ever been punished."
Monitor, Informador, with information Sinembargo.mx