A spate of attacks by armed men left 23 people dead in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, on Saturday.
In his daily press conference Monday, President Lopez Obrador said that he had ordered that the federal Attorney General’s Office lead the investigation, observing that it was a “cowardly crime that took the lives of innocent people.” He also confirmed the number of people killed in the incidents that took place across four neighborhoods in eastern Reynosa was 23.
According to reports, five of the dead were people killed by the police in confrontations.
During the attacks, gunmen who arrived in vehicles killed people described as “innocent citizens” by Tamaulipas Governor Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca. Among the dead were taxi drivers, construction workers, a family and a nursing student.
The apparently indiscriminate shootings immediately prompted a security operation involving the military, the National Guard and state police. It is unclear which criminal group perpetrated the attacks and why, but criminal activity in Tamaulipas has long been dominated by the Gulf Cartel.
Authorities said they were investigating to determine the motive of the violence.
Experts cited by the Associated Press said there has been a power struggle within the Gulf Cartel since 2017 to control drug and human trafficking routes.
“Apparently, one cell from a nearby town may have entered Reynosa to carry out the attacks,” AP said.
Photographs posted to social media showed bodies in the streets of the city, located across the border from McAllen, Texas.
The five gunmen were killed during two separate shootouts with security forces. The aggressors also reportedly shot at an army helicopter that was supporting the security operation. In addition to killing five gunmen, authorities detained one person who was transporting two apparently kidnapped women in the trunk of a car. They also seized two other vehicles and weapons.
Taxi driver Rene Guevara told AP that two of his fellow cabbies were killed on Saturday. “It’s not fair,” he said, asserting that neither of his slain colleagues was involved in crime.
Fernando Ruiz, a 19-year-old student working part-time as a plumber and bricklayer in a company owned by his stepfather and two of his colleagues were also among the dead.
“They killed him in cold blood, him and two of his companions,” said Olga Ruiz, the man’s sister, who explained that the gunmen arrived at a location where her brother was fixing a drain.
“They heard the gunshots from afar, and my stepfather told him: ‘Son, you have to take shelter.’ So he asked permission to enter a house, but my brother and his companions were only about to enter when the vehicles arrived,” she told AP. “They stopped in front of them and started to shoot.”
Reynosa businessman Misael Chavarria Garza told AP that many businesses closed early on Saturday due to the attacks and that residents felt afraid as the violence and security operation took place. On Sunday, “the people were quiet as if nothing had happened but with a feeling of anger because now crime has happened to innocent people,” he said.
García Cabeza de Vaca, who is sought by federal authorities on organized crime and money laundering charges but who has immunity from prosecution in Tamaulipas, said in a statement that “criminal organizations must receive a clear, explicit and forceful signal from the federal government that there will be no room for impunity, nor tolerance for their reprehensible criminal behavior.”
“In my government, there will be no truce for the violent,” added the National Action Party governor, who claims that the federal government’s charges against him are politically motivated.
Tamaulipas has been one of Mexico’s most violent states for years, and García Cabeza de Vaca is not the first governor to be accused of links to organized crime. One former governor linked to illegal activities is Tomás Yarrington, who was convicted in the United States in March of accepting bribes and money laundering.
In an interview with the Mexico Violence Resource Project published last week, the co-founder of Elefante Blanco, a new independent media project in Tamaulipas, said the current violence in the state is the product of intense fragmentation of cartels, including a “ferocious schism” between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, which was originally the armed wing of the Gulf Cartel.
“The story of modern-day organized crime in Tamaulipas is about how the dominant group — the Gulf Cartel — adapted to the challenges they perceived. The trafficking business was initially a smaller family affair that then became something more violent, more controlling. It stopped being about just illicit smuggling and became an effort to control everything that passed through the territory — legal and illegal products, migrants, everything,” Carlos Manuel Juárez added.