The army has moved at least 10 armored all-terrain vehicles into Zacatecas, the country’s most violent state last year in terms of homicides per capita.
The vehicles, which are equipped with high-caliber weapons, reached the northern state aboard semi-trailers on Monday afternoon, the newspaper Milenio reported.
The Ministry of National Defense hasn’t disclosed where the vehicles will be deployed but military sources suggested they could be headed to a mountainous area of Jerez near that municipality’s border with Valparaíso.
The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Sinaloa Cartel are engaged in a turf war in the region that has displaced residents of numerous communities.
There was a confrontation between the National Guard and armed civilians in Sarabia, a community in Jerez, last weekend that left one guardsmen and three criminal suspects dead. Further clashes were reported Monday and the army bolstered its presence in the area, Milenio said.
At a public event in Jerez on Sunday, federal Deputy Marco Antonio Flores said he would call on residents to fight the cartels themselves if the violence isn’t brought under control.
“We’re with you and if the federal government ignores us, I myself will call on people to take up arms up there,” he said, referring to the mountainous area of Jerez.
“To the displaced people of the communities … of the sierra, we want to tell you that you’re not alone, … you can count on us,” the Morena party deputy and former banda singer said.
Violence plagues many parts of Zacatecas, a state sought-after by cartels due to its location between Pacific coast ports, where drugs enter the country, and Mexico’s northeastern border with the United States.
Five Zacatecas municipalities – Fresnillo, Valparaíso, Calera, Zacatecas city and Guadalupe – were among the 50 most violent in Mexico for per-capita homicides over the past year, according to data compiled by crime monitoring website elcri.men.
There has been a spate of violent incidents in recent months, including the abandonment on January 6 of a vehicle with 10 dead bodies beneath a giant Christmas tree in front of the state government palace.
At least 18 homicides were recorded on February 5, while five university students – three men and two women – were killed after being abducted upon leaving a nightclub in Zacatecas city on February 12. Three men and two women have been arrested.
The Sinaloa Cartel appears intent on punishing the crime with its own brand of vigilante justice. In a video posted to social media, about 20 heavily armed members of the cartel stand over three young men allegedly involved in the murder of the students and two miners killed in Fresnillo on February 12.
“Good afternoon people of Zacatecas, we’ll introduce ourselves – we are the Sinaloa Cartel operation MZ,” one narco says, apparently referring to cartel leader Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
“Our mission is to exterminate everyone who harms the people. … We regret the events of recent days in which this trash killed some innocent students. Justice will be served,” he says.
“We don’t attack the government or citizens. We don’t make pacts with any cartel. We apologize to citizens for the collateral damage … in Jerez and Valparaíso. Don’t pay attention to extortion, we’re here to support you as is seen in the municipalities where we govern. … Our commitment is to the people. … We dedicate ourselves to working to have a better Zacatecas.”
Two of the three captured young men, one of whom is just 17, admitted to working for the CJNG. The third said he belonged to a criminal group called Los Talibanes.
A 24-year-old man who admitted to working in communications for the CJNG said the students were killed to “calentar la plaza” – to “heat up” a drug trafficking area controlled by the Jalisco cartel. He said that “Comandante Chisco” ordered the murder of the students.
The footage, which circulated widely on social media last weekend, has been viewed thousands of times.
The high levels of violence in Zacatecas – where there were 95.6 homicides per 100,000 people in the 12 months to January 31 – have instilled fear in many residents. The newspaper El Universal reported that bars in Zacatecas city were practically empty last weekend due to people’s fear of being caught up in violence.
Residents are experiencing a “collective psychosis of fear,” said Laura Torres Huerta, president of Zacatecas hospitality industry association ACEEZ.
“People didn’t go out … [last] weekend. The atmosphere was sad, bars were at 30% of their capacity,” she said.
“Because of the violence we don’t have a good reputation in Zacatecas at the moment,” Torres said, adding that the state’s precarious security situation is known both within Mexico and abroad. “We’re the flashpoint [that comes] with the warning: ‘Don’t visit Zacatecas!’”