The Mexican president has pledged to investigate the border shootings that killed 19 people over the weekend, even as the latest homicide figures showed a rebound in killings across the country.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said the evidence indicated that 15 of the victims were innocent bystanders. The other four dead were suspected armed men from a group that traveled to the northern border town of Reynosa and opened fire indiscriminately.
“Everything indicates that it was not a confrontation, but rather a commando team which fired at people who were not involved in any conflict,” said López Obrador.
Reynosa is located across the border from McAllen, Texas, and has been the scene of fighting between factions of the Gulf Cartel. But these disputes typically target gunmen or rival security forces. The dead in Saturday’s attack included taxi drivers, workers and a nursing student.
Authorities are still investigating the motive, although in the past drug cartels have sometimes used random killings of civilians to increase pressure on rival gangs or intimidate local authorities.
López Obrador has asked federal prosecutors to take up the case and promised “a full investigation”.
María Elena Morera, director of the civic anti-crime group Common Cause, said many people have grown used to such violence.
“Mexicans have gotten used to all of these atrocities, but there is no real reaction,” Morera said. “In the face of so much violence, people prefer not to let the pain in and turn away. “
Saturday’s murders in Reynosa, and the latest nationwide homicide figures, suggest that López Obrador’s “hugs, not bullets” criminal strategy does little to curb the killings.
There were 2,963 homicides in May, the last month for which figures are available, higher than May 2020 and far higher than the numbers that prevailed when López Obrador took office in December 2018.
The government said homicides were down 2.9% in the first five months of 2021 from 2020, but that may be because January and February of this year were marked by the worst wave of coronavirus. in Mexico, when public activities were reduced.
“It’s nothing,” Morera said of the fall. “It’s like you keep a patient in a coma and then tell them they’re doing great. “
Tamaulipas Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca called the victims of Reynosa “innocent citizens” and said: “Criminal organizations must receive a clear, explicit and forceful signal from the federal government that there will be no no room for impunity, no tolerance for their reprehensible criminals. behaviour.”
García Cabeza de Vaca belongs to the rival of the National Action Party and is himself the subject of an investigation by the Federal Prosecutor’s Office for organized crime and money laundering.
Local businessman Misael Chavarria Garza said many businesses closed early on Saturday after the attacks and people were very scared when helicopters flew over.
On Sunday, he said: “People were calm as if nothing had happened, but with a sense of anger because now the crime has happened to innocent people.”
The attacks sparked a deployment of the military, National Guard and state police across the city.
Criminal activity in the region has long been dominated by the Gulf cartel and there have been rifts 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 from a nearby town may have entered Reynosa to lead the attacks.
Olga Ruiz, whose 19-year-old brother Fernando Ruiz was killed by the gunmen, said her brother worked as a plumber and bricklayer in a business owned by his stepfather to pay for his education.
“They killed him in cold blood, him and two of his companions,” said Olga Ruiz, adding that the gunmen arrived where her brother was repairing a drain.
“They heard the gunshots from afar and my father-in-law said to him, ‘Son, you must take shelter.’ So he asked for permission to enter a house, but my brother and his companions were not about to enter until the vehicles arrived, ”Ruiz said. “They stopped in front of them and started shooting. “
López Obrador sought to avoid confrontations with the drug cartels, at one point freeing a prominent trafficker to prevent bloodshed. He prefers to focus on underlying social issues like youth unemployment.
Earlier this month, López Obrador praised the drug cartels for not disrupting the June 6 midterm vote, even though three dozen candidates were killed during campaigns.
“People who belong to organized crime have behaved very well, in general there have been few acts of violence on the part of these groups,” said the president. “I think the white collar criminals have done worse.”