The Mexican president has pledged to investigate border shootings that killed 19 people over the weekend, although the latest homicide figures showed a rise in killings across the country.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said evidence indicates that 15 of the victims were innocent passers-by. The other four dead were allegedly armed men from a group that stormed the northern border town of Reynosa and opened fire indiscriminately.
“Everything indicates that it was not a confrontation, but a commando that shot people who were not involved in any conflict,” Lopez Obrador said.
Reynosa is located on the other side of the McAllen, Texas border, and has been the scene of factional fighting between the Gulf cartel. But these disputes are usually directed at rival gunmen or security forces. Among those killed in Saturday’s attack were taxi drivers, workers and a nursing student.
Authorities continue to investigate the motives, although in the past, drug cartels sometimes used random killings of civilians to provoke heat in rival gangs or intimidate local authorities.
Lopez Obrador asked federal prosecutors to take over the case and pledged to “a thorough investigation.”
María Elena Morera, director of the civic group against crime Common Cause, said many people have delved into this violence.
“Mexicans have become accustomed to all these atrocities, without any real reaction,” Morera said. “In the face of so much violence, people prefer not to let the pain in and walk away.”
The killings in Reynosa on Saturday and the latest homicide figures nationwide suggest that López Obrador’s criminal strategy of “hugs, not bullets” is doing little to reduce killings.
There were 2,963 homicides in May, the last month for which figures are available, higher than in May 2020 and well above the figures that prevailed when López Obrador took office in December 2018.
The government said homicides were down 2.9 percent in the first five months of 2021 compared to 2020, but that may be because January and February this year were marked by the worst wave of coronavirus of Mexico, when public activities were reduced.
“That’s nothing,” Morera said of the fall. “It’s like keeping a patient in a coma and then saying he’s doing really well.”
Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca called Reynosa’s victims “innocent citizens” and said, “Criminal organizations must receive a clear, explicit and forceful signal from the federal government that there will be no room for impunity and no tolerance for his reprehensible criminal behavior. “
García Cabeza de Vaca belongs to the rival National Action Party and he himself is being investigated by the federal prosecutor’s office for organized crime and money laundering, accusations that he has said are part of a plan by the López Obrador government to attack him. to be an opponent.
Local businessman Misael Chavarria Garza said many businesses closed early in the early hours of the attacks on Saturday and people were very scared when helicopters flew overhead.
On Sunday, he said: “People were silent as if nothing had happened, but with a feeling of anger because now the crime has happened to innocent people.”
The attacks sparked a deployment of military, national guard and state police throughout the city.
For a long time, criminal activity in the area has been dominated by the Gulf cartel and there have been fractures within this group. Experts said there has been an internal struggle within the group since 2017 to control key territories for drug and human trafficking. Apparently, a cell in a nearby town may have entered Reynosa to carry out the attacks.
Olga Ruiz, whose brother Fernando Ruiz, 19, was killed by gunmen, said his brother worked as a plumber and bricklayer in a company of his stepfather to pay for his studies.
“He and two of his comrades were killed in cold blood,” Olga Ruiz said, adding that the gunmen arrived where her brother was fixing a drain.
“They heard gunshots from a distance and my stepfather said, ‘Son, you have to take refuge.’ So he asked permission to enter a house, but my brother and his companions were only about to enter when the vehicles arrived, ”said Ruiz. “They stopped in front of them and started firing.”
López Obrador has tried to avoid clashes with drug cartels, at one point to release a trafficker to prevent bloodshed. He prefers to focus on addressing underlying social issues such as youth unemployment.
Earlier this month, López Obrador praised the drug cartels for not interrupting the midterm voting on June 6, although three dozen candidates died during the campaigns.
“People belonging to organized crime behaved very well, in general, there were few acts of violence by these groups,” the president said. “I think white-collar criminals acted worse.”