Northern Mexico violence escalates

When Alejandro Dominguez was sworn in as police chief of violence-torn Nuevo Laredo June 8, reporters asked him if he was afraid of dying. “I believe the corrupt officials are the ones who are scared,” replied Dominguez, 52, former head of Nuevo Laredo’s Chamber of Commerce and a veteran of the federal Attorney General’s office. “The only people I work for are the public.” Six hours later, Dominguez lay dead, felled by a fusillade of bullets as he left his office in the center of town. He was the seventh–and most senior–police officer killed since January in this city of 500,000 people across the border from Laredo, TX.

The violence has persisted despite the presence of 700 federal police and soldiers sent here in March by President Vicente Fox. “The army is here and the federal police are here. But the thugs carry on killing with impunity,” said Raymundo Ramos, president of the Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee. “We are all frightened. If the police chief can’t protect himself, then how can we?”

State (Tamaulipas) detectives said the slaying of Dominguez appeared to be the work of drug gangs fighting for control of lucrative smuggling routes into Texas. But so far, police said, they have found no witnesses.

On the same day that Dominguez was killed, seven gunmen wearing ski masks stormed into a hospital in the city of Chihuahua and killed a federal agent who was recovering from gunshot wounds. In all, more than 550 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico so far this year.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle in April while serving as Chamber of Commerce president, Dominguez had outlined his frustrations with Mexican authorities for failing to stop the violence. “The bloodshed takes away our freedom and destroys our livelihoods,” Dominguez said. “We need to work together at the city, state and federal level to solve this problem. There is too much talk and no action.”

In Washington, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department had no direct comment on the killing but called attention to an April 26 travel alert to Mexico that, he said, described the situation along the border.

“Violent criminal activity fueled by a war between criminal organizations struggling for control of the lucrative narcotics trade continues along the U.S.-Mexico border,” the State Department advisory said. “This has resulted in a wave of violence aimed primarily at members of drug-trafficking organizations, criminal-justice officials and journalists. However, foreign visitors and residents, including Americans, have been among the victims.” (Houston Chronicle, June 10)

The NY Times reported May 24 that Raymundo Ramos, the human rights leader an a reporter for El Mañana, was himself kidnapped and threatened for his coverage of the violence. Another reporter, Guadalupe Garcia of radio Estereo 91 was shot dead on a bust street in broad daylight April, after receiving repeated threats over the police radio frequency: “You are next, Lupita.”

Among those killed in recent weeks are a legislator from Sinaloa and police chief of Rosarito Beach, a popular tourist spot south of Tijuana.

See our last post on the escalating violence in northern Mexico.