Monday, May 14, 2012

Mystery Surrounds Zetas' Dumping of 49 Bodies in Mexico

Police found 49 mutilated bodies -- without heads, hands, or legs -- abandoned on a highway outside Monterrey, Mexico. Local media reported that the bodies showed signs of decay and the victims may have been killed 48 hours before their discovery. None reportedly bore signs of bullet wounds. A graffiti message on a nearby white stone read, “100% Zeta,” reports the AP, implying the criminal groups the Zetas were responsible for the act.

The state attorney general said the victims may be migrants, which is a plausible scenario: the Zetas are known for killing, kidnapping, and terrorizing migrants, most notably in the 2010 massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas state. It is also possible that the deaths form part of a wave of killings, including the discovery of 18 heads in southern Jalisco state last week, that are intended to demonstrate the Zetas’ capacity for terror, as they battle the Sinaloa Cartel for control of criminal enterprises like drug trafficking. "It's a reflection of what has been happening across the country," one analyst told the Wall Street Journal. The fight between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas originally appeared to be concentrated in the key border city of Nuevo Laredo, but these recent acts of violence emphasize that the battle will play out across the nation.

The Washington Post theorizes that the victims may have been killed in another state and driven to the highway outside Monterrey, using backcountry roads in order to avoid attention from the security forces. But the identities and origins of the victims will likely be very difficult to determine. While the state attorney general said there were no reports in recent days of disappearances, this is an assumption that the victims were only taken captive very recently. The Zetas could have kidnapped the victims some time ago and held them in a safehouse before killing them. In one illustrative case, last week in Jalisco the security forces rescued a dozen kidnap victims being held by the Zetas.

The AP provides a list of other notable incidents of Mexico’s crime-related massacres since May 2011. Some incidents could provide other explanations for the victims’ origins: they could be bus passengers, given the Zetas’ killing and kidnapping of bus passengers in Nuevo Leon state last year. The victims could also have been killed because the Zetas suspected they worked for a rival cartel. State authorities cited the fact that some of the bodies had tattoos as evidence for this scenario. But so far evidence for this is sketchy. What is clear is that the Zetas intended the mass body dump to be seen and widely reported. The goal was apparently to not only intimidate their rivals, but the general public as well.

News Briefs
  • Colombian rebel group the FARC have contacted the Red Cross and told them they plan to release kidnapped French journalist Romeo Langlois, AFP reports
  • The Miami Herald with a review of President Michel Martelly’s first year in office, noting that while his government has made a couple of significant policy shifts, including making cholera vaccinations available, his administration has been marred by political infighting. As summarized by one US academic: “Martelly and his team have plunged the country into needless politically linked controversy and gridlock, and reopened polarized strife, in large part because of an orientation toward governance that is tightly inclusive, not widely-embracing of different actors, and takes a ‘my way or the highway’ approach toward differing views.”
  • Highlighting the pain felt by relatives who have lost loved ones to Mexico’s crime wars,  the New York Times has a moving profile of a family in Colima state, who lost one family member after gunmen opened fire in his car shop. As few of these deaths are investigated, and many of them are written off as being related to organized crime, survivors must often deal with this stigma, the Times reports. 
  • The LA Times predicts that widespread disillusionment among young Mexican voters will help project Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto to the presidency. The latest polls now show Peña Nieto leading in the polls at 45 percent, while leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is now in a second-place tie with ruling party candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota, reports Reuters. Some younger voters now see the PRI as emblematic of change, while many others will likely sit out the election in expression of disgust with Mexico’s democracy, the LA Times reports. Part of the problem is legislation which previously barred independent candidates from running, and only allowed party bosses to select the candidates that run for office, giving voters little say in the matter. This system has since been changed, just not in time for July’s presidential elections. Elsewhere, the Washington Post profiles Peña Nieto, and asks what his campaign symbolizes for the evolution of Mexican politics: “The question that obsesses observers in Mexico is whether Peña Nieto represents the old PRI -- autocratic, corrupt, dominated by personalities Mexicans call ‘dinosaurs’ -- or the new PRI, which promises transparency, competence, and clean hands.”
  • Colombian paramilitary warlord Salvatore Mancuso said Friday that he supported former President Alvaro Uribe’s re-election campaign in 2006, in an interview with Caracol radio. The campaign used the cash for advertising, bus transport, and food, Mancuso added. He also said that he’d had direct meetings with Uribe but declined to specify further. As Verdad Abierta points out, Mancuso’s statements are hardly surprising. Other paramilitaries have made similar allegations during Colombia’s Justice and Peace process, the judicial process designed to give former paramilitaries reduced terms in return for their open testimony. 
  • The LA Times on the small town on the US-Mexico border where the mayor, police chief, and ten other people were arrested last year for smuggling guns to Mexico. The town, Columbus, is just four miles away from the Mexican town of Palomas, and residents move easily between the two, symbolic of how invisible the border can be in everyday life. The article is accompanied by a photo essay
  • A crossword puzzle that spelled out several words -- including “Adan,” the name of President Hugo Chavez’s brother, and “asesinan,” or kill -- has stirred controversy in Venezuela, the AP reports. One prominent Chavez supporter, a television personality, declared that the words were a “message.” The puzzle creator told the New York Times that he has already voluntarily spoken with intelligence agents, stating, “I have nothing to hide.”
  • Honduras Culture and Politics with a well-argued critique of President Porfirio Lobo’s claim that if the US reduced its drug consumption, this would reduce criminal activity in Central America.
  • From Al Jazeera, some good analysis on El Salvador’s political climate, as the three major parties prepare for the 2014 presidential elections.