Cartel threats force people to flee cities in Mexico

By Raul Hernandez, IANS
Monday, November 22, 2010

Mexico City, Nov 23 (IANS/EFE) Several cities in northern Mexico affected by violence and threats from drug traffickers have experienced an exodus of residents, leaving them deserted as nightfall comes and shops close.

The most affected state is Tamaulipas, where Ciudad Mier and other communities near the capital, Ciudad Victoria, live through “an unofficial curfew” daily, spokesmen for the state Attorney General’s Office told EFE.

The situation is worst in Ciudad Mier, where many of the 6,500 residents have fled to neighbouring Miguel Aleman and others have decided to stay but spend their evenings and nights in a municipal shelter, experiencing normalcy only in the mornings.

About 250 families have fled to Miguel Aleman and 32 others have sought refuge at the shelter, especially older people who refuse to leave the city, said municipal officials.

Of those living in Miguel Aleman, dozens return home only to eat the free meals handed out at the shelter because they do not have any money, and they return to a neighbouring city to sleep.

People living at the municipal facilities in Miguel Aleman are being assisted by that city’s residents, the Catholic Church and Mexican-owned businesses in neighbouring Texas.

For some time, stores and other businesses in Ciudad Mier have been closing as soon as evening falls and remaining shuttered until the next day, with people staying out of the streets “because they live in total fear and prefer to lock themselves inside to avoid problems”, the AG’s office spokesmen said.

Ciudad Mier, once a tourist destination known as the “Magic Town”, is not the only municipality that becomes a ghost town every evening.

Other cities, such as Hidalgo, fear that they will end up like Ciudad Mier.

Hidalgo’s residents are afraid because of the attacks they have experienced against themselves and their property, the secretary-general of the municipal government, Hugo Andres Araujo, acknowledged last week.

Officials have urged the federal government to deploy more forces in the area to protect the public safety, which has been affected by the war that broke out earlier this year between the Gulf cartel and its former armed wing, Los Zetas, Araujo said.

The situation worsened in the city at the end of August after Hidalgo Mayor Marco Antonio Leal was murdered, a businessman said on condition of anonymity.

“Our family lives in great fear, there are nights when the sound of the gunfire does not let us sleep and we just pray that the bullets will not go through the walls of the house,” the businessman said in a telephone interview.

The businessman’s family, like many others in the area, is home by 6 p.m.

“There are times when we see those people (the gunmen) arriving in their SUVs, we go to school for our children, the shops close and we lock ourselves up at home for several hours,” the businessman said.

Residents of cities like Matamoros, Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo and Tampico have taken measures to ensure their own safety and avoid venturing outside unless it is an emergency.

Food deliveries have increased in the violence-plagued cities and nightlife is virtually non-existent when shootouts occur.

Officials are aware of the situation, with Tamaulipas Gov. Eugenio Hernandez admitting to reporters earlier this month that some cities had become ungovernable and authorities were “overwhelmed”.

Local and state police officers do not have the firepower to take on the cartels engaged in turf wars, requiring a larger federal presence in Ciudad Mier, Miguel Aleman, Guerrero, Camargo and Diaz Ordaz, the governor said.


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