Mexico: army troops to Veracruz; narco gangs defiant

The administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderón May 11 authorized the dispatch of federal army and police to the Gulf coast state of Veracruz. “This morning, I spoke with [Veracruz] Gov. Fidel Herrera,” Interior Secretary Francisco Ramírez Acuña told a news conference in Mexico City. “We agreed to take steps so federal forces can lend support to state authorities.”

Gov. Herrera told EFE that the use of the army in Veracruz will be “selective and surgical.” Some 30,000 federal police and army troops have been deployed in nine other Mexican states since Calderón took office Dec. 1.

Ramírez Acuña said Calderón is determined to keep up the battle against warring criminal gangs who are blamed for more than 2,000 murders nationwide in 2006 and nearly half that number so far this year. A total of 20 people, including several police officers, have been killed this year in Veracruz.

The new deployment comes after members of the security detail for the vacationing children of State of Mexico Gov. Enrique Peña Nieto were killed the night of May 10 while traveling in an unmarked SUV through the main tourist area of Veracruz City.

Sources in the Veracruz Public Safety Secretariat said the attackers opened fire on the plainclothes officers’ gray Dodge Durango without any warning or prior indication of trouble. They added that two of the officers fired back at their assailants, but did not say whether any of the gunmen were killed or wounded in the exchange. State of Mexico prosecutor Humberto Benítez Treviño, told W-Radio that the vehicle carrying Gov. Peña Nieto’s three children was ahead of the Durango. He said the children’s aunt was at the wheel and she sped away when she saw the attack. Gov. Peña Nieto denied the attack was personally motivated, insisting the bodyguards were confused for a rival drug gang.

“There is not the slightest suspicion of a personal attack,” he told Monitor Radio, calling the deaths of the police officers an “irreparable loss.” Peña Nieto, 39, whose wife died in January of an illness, is considered a possible future presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). (El Universal, May 12)

On the day after the Veracruz troop deployment was announced, a severed head accompanied by a note of defiance was found outside a military barracks in Veracruz City. The head was reportedly in a box along with two grenades and the note. “We are going to continue, even if federal forces are here,” state Public Safety Secretary Juan Manuel Orozco quoted the note as saying. The body of the victim—an auto mechanic kidnapped four days earlier—was found later in another neighborhood of the city, wrapped in a sheet. Gov. Herrera called the message a “provocation.” (El Universal, May 13)

The Veracruz deployment also comes as Calderón has announced the creation of a new elite military force to combat organized crime and “acts that threaten the security of the nation.” The Federal Forces Support Corps (Cuerpo de Fuerzas de Apoyo Federal), created by presidential decree, was established in response to the “exceptional situations that put the interior security of the nation at risk.”

Official reports did not say how any troops would make up the new security corps, but military sources told the press it would include 3,500 men from the Special Amphibious Forces Group (GANFES), created in response to the 1994 Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas. (Sol de Tulancingo, May 10)

See our last posts on Veracruz and the narco wars.