An additional 460 federal troops will be deployed to Zacatecas to combat high levels of violence, the federal government announced Wednesday at an event attended by President López Obrador and members of his cabinet.
The deployment is the centerpiece of a new security plan for the northern state, Mexico’s most violent on a per capita basis with 96 homicides per 100,000 people in the 12-month period to the end of October.
Presenting the new support plan for Zacatecas, National Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval announced that 210 additional soldiers and 250 extra members of the National Guard will be deployed Thursday.
The number of soldiers and guardsmen in the state will increase to 1,954 and 1,894, respectively, for a grand total of 3,848 troops. Their public security work will be supported by three military helicopters.
Sandoval said that authorities divided the state into three areas for security purposes and that 1,940 troops will be deployed to the central region, where Zacatecas city and Fresnillo, a notoriously violent city, are located.
He said that 804 troops will go to the state’s north and 1,104 to the south, where nine bodies were left hanging from an overpass last week and a tenth was dumped on the highway below.
National Intelligence Center agents will be deployed to orient the troops’ public security operations.
Sandoval said the military and National Guard deployment will prevent confrontations between criminal groups that are generating violence. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel are among those that operate in the state.
Sandoval also said that military detachments from San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, Aguascalientes and Jalisco will bolster security on the borders those states share with Zacatecas.
“These military zones will provide personnel, 90 elements each for … a total of 360,” he said, asserting that the troops will curb the movement of criminal gangs between states.
The army chief said the results of the support plan will be evaluated after 30 days. He noted that violence linked to organized crime has increased considerably in the state. There were 560 homicides in 2019, 920 last year and 1,277 to date this year, he said.
The location of Zacatecas makes control of its territory highly desirable for criminal groups moving narcotics from Pacific coast ports to Mexico’s northeastern border with the United States. The state government said last year that at least five groups were moving fentanyl and other drugs through the state.
Speaking after several of his ministers outlined plans for Zacatecas in a range of areas, López Obrador assured Governor David Monreal that he would have the complete support of the federal government.
“You’re not alone,” the president told the governor, a former federal senator and mayor of Fresnillo.
Monreal, who took office for the ruling Morena party in September, had emphasized that security was the most important issue to address, although he also said the state was facing a “social emergency” and “economic crisis.”
His government inherited a debt of some 10 billion pesos (US $465 million) and is struggling to pay the salaries of bureaucrats and fund policies in sectors such as agriculture.
López Obrador said the federal government would work closely with its state counterpart and continue to support citizens via welfare and employment programs such as the Youths Building the Future apprenticeship scheme, in which an additional 5,000 places will be offered.
Providing opportunities for young people is a priority and reduces the possibility that they will be recruited by criminal groups, the president said.
“We’re going to continue attending to young people, which is very important because violence mustn’t be confronted with violence, evil can’t be confronted with evil, we have to confront violence by doing good, attending to its causes … This wasn’t done before,” López Obrador said.
“We have to remove the breeding ground [for violence], we have to take away [criminal groups’] reserve army of criminals,” the president said, referring to disillusioned young people with scant educational and work opportunities.
“That’s the best way to confront the serious problem of insecurity and violence,” he said before conceding that the plan will take time to work.
With reports from Milenio