REYNOSA, Mexico (AP) — After a recent surge of bloodshed, Mexico's top security official said Tuesday that military commanders will lead what he called a new security strategy in the northern border state of Tamaulipas.
But Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong's description sounded more like a doubling down on the current approach rather than a new plan. He said the government will continue working to dismantle cartels, block smuggling routes for people, weapons and drugs, and vet local police for corruption. He gave no numbers for troop or federal police reinforcements.
At least 76 people have been killed in drug-related violence since the start of April in Tamaulipas from cartel infighting and clashes between gunmen and security forces.
Tamaulipas will be divided into four regions, each with an army or navy officer in charge of implementing the federal security plan for bringing peace to the state, Chong said. He did not say how the new campaign would differ from previous efforts to turn public safety over to the military that failed to stem violence in the state.
"We are going to re-establish the conditions that will allow Tamaulipas citizens to recover the tranquility they deserve," Chong said in Reynosa, which is across the border from McAllen, Texas.
Peace has seemed a long way off recently in Reynosa, where killings have come in clusters of as many as 14. Parents have kept children home from school, and when a balloon popped next to a microphone at a city celebration for kids April 30, local media reported that panicked families ran for the exits.
Eduardo Cantu, a businessman in the coastal city of Tampico, which was hit by a burst of violence in April, organized a march for peace in that city Sunday that he said drew 12,000 people. But while they marched, criminals set car lots ablaze across town because the owners wouldn't pay extortion demands, he said.
"We as a society have the obligation to continue pressuring now that we've awakened for the first time," Cantu said.
Chong said much of the recent violence stemmed from the government's success in going after the leadership of criminal organizations. He did not name them, but the rival Gulf Cartel and Zetas gang are the dominant criminal groups in Tamaulipas. Without using a name, Chong alluded to the military's killing of Galdino Mellado Cruz, a founding member of the Zetas, in Reynosa on Friday as one of those successes.
Tamaulipas shares a long border with southernmost Texas, running from Laredo to Brownsville. Border commerce, licit and illicit, is the region's lifeblood.
Chong said five checkpoints with advanced technology will be established to root out smuggling on highways connecting the state's major cities. He said government forces also will patrol urban areas 24 hours a day and a prosecutor dedicated to leading criminal investigations will be assigned to each region.
He said the state police force would again be cleared of corrupt officers. A previous weeding out of bad officers over several years in Tamaulipas resulted in the recent deployment of accredited state police officers.
Raul Benitez, a security expert at Mexico's National Autonomous University, said he had expected a strong intervention in Tamaulipas after a similar one in Michoacan, the Pacific coast state where citizen militias rose up against the Knights Templar cartel in the last year.
He cautioned that it could be even more complicated in Tamaulipas than in Michoacan, because there are two well-armed cartels competing in the northern state.
Associated Press writer Mark Stevenson in Mexico City contributed to this report.