Violence Batters Former Mexican Showcase

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A retired Mexican general took charge of security this week in the troubled Mexican border state of Nuevo Leon, even as violent incidents continued to bloody the landscape.

On Monday, February 27, four men were reported slain in two gangland-style incidents in the state capital of Monterrey. A day earlier, on February 26, five young men were massacred by gunmen in a single event shortly before noon in the nearby municipality of Apodaca. Citing unidentified neighbors, a Nuevo Leon state police source quoted in the press said the five victims were murdered at a residence known for its sales of illegal drugs.

Apodaca was also the scene of a bloody February 19 prison rampage in which 44 inmates, all purported members of the Gulf drug cartel, were killed by rivals allegedly belonging to the Zetas gang. The violence also served as a cover for the mass escape of 29 Zetas, according to media accounts.

Yet the slaughter at the penitentiary was only the latest in a series of forewarned prison massacres in Mexico. Multiple reports portray warring groups of inmates running the Apodaca prison, a hot spot for drug dealing and consumption.

Nearly six months before the killings, the parents of one murdered Apodaca prisoner, Mario Humberto Ramirez Calderon, unsuccessfully requested a transfer of their son to another state prison because of the violence and extortion that the young man suffered at the hands of other inmates. According to Ramirez’s parents, whose real names were omitted from a news story due to security concerns, visits to their son quickly revealed other prisoners in charge of the institution.

“In Apodaca, there was a person seated at each access point with a notebook and a pen writing down the movements of people-where they were going, who it was and how many there were” Ramirez’s mother was quoted. “(Note-takers) weren’t guards, they were prisoners.”

Recognizing the need for a profound transformation of the state prison system, Nuevo Leon Governor Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz admitted this week that many inmates enter prison uninvolved with organized criminal groups but leave the system as members of gangs.

As part of a shuffle of local security personnel, General Javier del Real Magallanes has been named the new state secretary of public safety. Previous to his appointment, the former defense official headed the 4th Military Region based in Monterrey from October 2006 to November 2008 before moving on to a job as undersecretary of planning and institutional protection for the Federal Secretariat of Public Safety.

Nuevo Leon's new security chief vowed to use “all the force of the State” to bring security to his jurisdiction.

In his long military career, del Real Magallanes served as a military attaché in several Central American nations, directed Mexico’s National Defense College and commanded the 2nd Military Region in Baja California and Sonora.

Once considered a showcase of modern Mexican capitalism, Monterrey and its surrounding area have been sunk in violence during the past five years. At least 2,000 violent crimes have been registered within the past year alone.

With an estimated population of 4.5 million and the third largest metro zone in Mexico, Monterrey offers strategic vantage points to the U.S. border, as well as brisk domestic markets for illegal drugs, money-laundering, prostitution, gambling, and contraband products of all types.

Sources: La Jornada, February 28, 2012. Article by Maria Alejandra Arroyo. Excelsior.com, February 28, 2012. La Opinion/EFE, February 27, 2012. Mexico.cnn.com, February 27, 2012. Article by Juan Alberto Cedillo. Proceso/Apro, February 25 and 27, 2012. Articles by Luciano Campos Garza and editorial staff.