2011 San Fernando massacre

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2011 San Fernando massacre
Part of Mexican Drug War
Location San Fernando, Tamaulipas, Mexico
Coordinates 24°50′N 98°09′W / 24.833°N 98.150°W / 24.833; -98.150
Date 6 April – 7 June 2011
Target Civilians and Gulf Cartel hitmen
Attack type
Mass murder, kidnapping
Deaths 193
Perpetrator Los Zetas
Not to be confused with the 2010 San Fernando massacre, the killing of 72 illegal immigrants.

The 2011 San Fernando massacre, also known as the second massacre of San Fernando,[1] was the mass murder of 193 people by Los Zetas drug cartel at La Joya ranch in the municipality of San Fernando, Tamaulipas, Mexico.[2] Authorities investigating the massacre reported numerous hijackings of passenger buses on Mexican Federal Highway 101 in San Fernando, and the kidnapped victims were later killed and buried in 47 clandestine mass graves.[2] The investigations began immediately after several suitcases and baggage were unclaimed in Reynosa and Matamoros, Tamaulipas.[3] On 6 April 2011, the Mexican authorities exhumed 59 corpses from eight mass graves.[4] By 7 June 2011, after a series of multiple excavations, a total of 193 bodies were exhumed from mass graves in San Fernando.[5]

Reports mentioned that female kidnapping victims were raped and able-bodied male kidnapping victims were forced to fight to the death with other hostages, similar to a "gladiator fight from ancient Rome," where they were given knives, hammers, machetes, and clubs to find recruits who were willing to kill for their lives.[6] In the blood sport, the survivor was recruited as a new hitman for Los Zetas; those who did not survive were buried in a clandestine gravesite.[7] After the massacre, thousands of citizens from San Fernando fled to other parts of Mexico and to the United States.[8] The Mexican government responded by sending 650 soldiers to San Fernando and establishing a military base in the municipality.[9] The troops took over the duties of the police forces in the city and worked on social programs.[10] In addition, a total of 82 Zeta members were arrested by 23 August 2011.[11] In 2012, after the two massacres in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, tranquility has been slowly returning to the city, along with the inhabitants who fled because of the violence.[12]

The Mexican authorities are not certain why Los Zetas decided to abduct people from buses, and then torture, murder, and bury them. They speculate that the Zetas may have forcibly recruited the passengers as foot soldiers for the organization, intended to hold them for ransom, or extort them before they crossed into the United States.[13] The killers, however, confessed that they abducted and killed the passengers because they feared their rivals, the Gulf Cartel, were getting reinforcements from other states.[14] One of the leaders confessed that Heriberto Lazcano, the supreme leader of Los Zetas, had ordered the investigation of all the buses coming in through San Fernando; those "who had nothing to do with it were freed. But those that did, they were killed."[14] In addition, the killers claimed to have investigated the passengers' cellphones and text messages to determine if they were involved with the Gulf Cartel or not, and that they were particularly worried from the buses coming in from the states of Durango and Michoacán, two strongholds of the rival La Familia and the Sinaloa Cartels.[14]

Background[edit]

Before the violence[edit]

Local residents claim that arms trafficking, car thefts, and drug trade have "always existed" in San Fernando, but in 2004 Los Zetas arrived at the area.[15] They began to establish themselves little by little, and local residents remember witnessing convoys of "luxurious trucks entering and leaving the city, going into stores and buying goods."[15] They claimed that before the Mexican Drug War (which began in 2006) and the rupture between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas (which happened in early 2010), the cartels "would not kidnap or steal. In fact, they would always pay for the goods they bought in stores."[15] They would live outside the city limits in ranches.[15] However, then they began to live in city neighborhoods, and the "people started to get involved with them."[15] A local resident claimed that many families had "at least one member involved in the drug trade," and that is why he claims many in San Fernando were scared when the violence erupted. In addition, below is a quote of advice from his mother, who gave instructions on what to do when one is kidnapped by the cartels:

"If they come for you, do not let them take you alive. We will at least know where you are and we will have your body with us to mourn."[16]

Gulf-Zeta cartels split[edit]

Main article: Mexican Drug War

Before the violence erupted in Tamaulipas, San Fernando was known for its bass fishing and dove hunting, and the area had long been popular with outdoor enthusiasts from Texas and other U.S. states. One day, a group of dove hunters from Houston, Texas reported being assaulted by a group of heavily armed gunmen in San Fernando.[17] Violence had erupted, and on 26 June 2010, just outside San Fernando, 15 bodies were found on the Mexican Federal Highway 101.[18] The violence between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, their former armed wing, had started.[19]

In early 2010, Los Zetas broke apart from the Gulf Cartel and both organizations began to turn their weapons against each other.[20] The clash between these two groups first happened in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, and then expanded to Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros.[21] The war then spread out through 11 municipalities of Tamaulipas, 9 of them bordering the state of Texas.[22] Soon, the violence generated between these two groups had spread to Tamaulipas' neighboring states of Nuevo León and Veracruz.[23][24] In the midsts of violence and panic, local authorities and the media tried to minimize the situation and claim that "nothing was occurring," but the facts were impossible to cover up.[25] Confrontations between these two groups have paralyzed entire cities in broad daylight.[26] Several witnesses claimed that many of the municipalities throughout Tamaulipas were "war zones," and that many businesses and houses were burned down, leaving areas in "total destruction."[27] The bloodbath in Tamaulipas has caused thousands of deaths, but most of the shootings and body counts often go unreported.[28]

In the city of San Fernando, Tamaulipas, the Gulf Cartel forces of Antonio Cárdenas Guillén, alias Tony Tormenta, "strung the bodies of fallen Zetas and their associates from light poles."[29] The Gulf Cartel lashed out to attack Los Zetas at their stronghold in San Fernando. According to The Monitor, the municipality of San Fernando is a "virtual spiderweb" of dirt roads that connect with Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros—making it a prized territory for drug traffickers.[29] In January 2011, Nancy Davis, a U.S. missionary, was traveling with her husband Sam through the municipality of San Fernando.[30] According to Pharr, Texas police, both Nancy and Sam encountered a group of heavily armed men, who tried to force the Davises' blue 2008 Chevrolet 2500 pickup off the highway.[30] When they tried to flee, the gunmen shot at them, striking Nancy in the head. Sam drove back to McAllen, Texas where his wife was pronounced dead.[30]

The first shootout that occurred in San Fernando, Tamaulipas in 2010 is still remembered by some residents, which happened near a hospital, where the bullet holes can "still be seen."[31] According to local residents, heavily armed gunmen then began to fight in certain avenues throughout the city, and even shot the police station.[32] None of the shootings made it on the news.[32] One man who was interviewed mentioned that even before the two massacres were discovered, people were being kidnapped at an alarming rate, but "they were scared" of the reprisals by the cartels.[32] He then went on to mention that the cartels had San Fernando "under control," and that they "were the authority."[32] Witnesses mention that the cartels would enter the city "in convoys with more than 200 SUV's," and that the policemen were no challenge for them.[32] The cartel gunmen wore military uniform, were heavily armed, and would constantly attack policemen and other civilians alike.[32]

Previous massacre[edit]

On 24 August 2010, the Mexican marines found 72 illegal immigrants dead—58 men and 14 women—in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. They were killed by Los Zetas for failing to pay for their kidnapping ransom and for refusing to work for the cartel.[33] One of the survivors, an Ecuadorian, faked his death and made it up to a military checkpoint to ask for help. He was then aided by the authorities, who then traveled to the place where the survivor had indicated and found 72 corpses inside a warehouse in a ranch.[34] Huerta Montiel, the main Zeta arrested for the massacre, said in an interrogatory video that "more than 600 bodies" are buried in clandestine mass graves near San Fernando, but the Mexican authorities never confirmed it.[35][36] The massacre caused international reactions in the United States,[37] Ecuador,[38] El Salvador,[39] Honduras,[40] Guatemala,[41] Venezuela,[42] Brazil,[43] Organization of American States,[44] Amnesty International,[45] United Nations,[46] and all around Mexico.[47]

Massacre[edit]

Between 24 and 29 March in 2011, several public transportation buses that were heading to Reynosa, Tamaulipas were abducted in San Fernando.[48][49]

On 6 April 2011, the Mexican authorities found 59 bodies in eight clandestine mass graves in San Fernando, Tamaulipas.[50] This discovery led officials to acknowledge that the Mexican drug cartels had begun to inflict fear through a new modus operandi: "stopping buses and removing passengers, some never to be seen again."[13] Two weeks before the bodies were found, there were reports of various buses being abducted by the cartels near San Fernando, where the cartel members would "stop the bus, select passengers, take them hostage."[13] 14 cartel members were arrested too.[51] By 8 April 2011, the secretary general of Tamaulipas, Morelos Jaime Canseco, confirmed the finding of 13 more bodies, increasing the body count to 72 corpses.[52] When the death toll reached 72, the bus lines in Tamaulipas refused to take people to San Fernando until the situation was resolved.[53] Investigators began to mention that those killed were not migrants (like the previous massacre of the 72 migrants in 2010), but "fellow Mexican citizens."[52]

On 10 April 2011, in four other mass graves, 16 more bodies were exhumed, increasing the death-toll to 88 bodies.[54] Witnesses then confessed that the cartel members had stopped the bus at a fake military checkpoint, and that they had ordered the passengers to "pay up to $300 U.S. dollars" for them to continue their route.[54][55] The investigation continued, and 12 April 2011, the Mexican military confirmed the finding of 28 more bodies, making the death-toll reach 116 and the mass graves up to fifteen.[56][57] It was then proven by the PGR that the massacre was carried out by Los Zetas, a drug trafficking organization formed originally by former military soldiers in Mexico.[58] By 13 April, the authorities found 6 more bodies, and the death-toll reached 122.[59] The next day, on 14 April, twelve more mass graves were found with 23 bodies, and the body count reached 145.[60] Investigators mentioned that the bodies had been deceased for between "one and two months."[60] Also, sixteen police officers from San Fernando were arrested for allegedly serving as accomplices to members of Los Zetas in the slayings.[61]

On 21 April 2011, the authorities found 32 more bodies in eight other mass graves; the death-toll went up to 177.[62][63] Five days later on 26 April, the body count reached 183, and the mass graves found were over forty.[64] Seventy-four suspected killers had been captured too.[64] By this date, only 2 of the 183 bodies found had been "fully identified" by the authorities, and around 120 bodies were sent to Mexico City for identification.[65] And finally, on 7 June 2011, the bodies found in clandestine mass graves in the municipality of San Fernando, Tamaulipas rested at 193 corpses.[66] One U.S. citizen was killed in the massacre.[67]

'Gladiator-like' killings[edit]

The Houston Chronicle's journalist, Dane Schiller, had an interview with a drug cartel member in a restaurant in Texas on the condition that his identity remained completely anonymous.[68] He referred to the hitman as Juan, who wore "designer sunglasses" and was carrying "Nordstrom shopping bags."[68] Juan reportedly moves more than $5 million U.S. dollars of cocaine each month, and in his interview he explained that Los Zetas have been using an "ancient Roman gladiator blood sport" to groom new assassins and find recruits for their organization.[68]

Once captured, the kidnapped victims were forced to fight to death with the other victims.[69] Men were given knives, hammers, and machetes, and were ordered at gunpoint to fight for their lives like a "gladiator-style contest." The winners of the fights were ordered to go on suicide missions and shoot at rival drug cartel members at other towns and cities.[69] Those that did not win the "fight-to-the-death gladiator matches" were buried in clandestine mass graves.[68] The idea behind this tactic is to find new recruits who are willing to kill without mercy.[69] Almost all of the corpses found in the mass graves had features of "blunt force trauma." Juan, the cartel member, confessed that the game is called: "Who is going to be the next hitman?"[69] Peter Hana, a retired FBI agent with years of experience in the development of the Mexican drug cartels, said the reenactments of gladiator contests, where victims "cut guys to pieces" for the "amusement" of the drug lords,[70] was something that people a few years ago would not think possible, but that now is "commonplace."[70]

The testimony of a cartel member tried in Laredo, Texas claimed that the fighting contests between the kidnapped victims were ordered by Miguel Treviño Morales, alias Z-40, a high-ranking Zeta lieutenant, and that they were used to make the killers "lose their fear."[71] In addition, he mentioned that 100 Zeta recruits were being trained in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, and 300 more in San Fernando, Tamaulipas on January 2012.[71]

'The Highway of Death'[edit]

The Mexican Federal Highway 101, which extends from the border city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas to the capital of the state, Ciudad Victoria, is known by local residents as the 'Highway of Death.'[72] Those who traveled through this highway in 2010 and 2011 used to see "burned vehicles, bullet-shot trucks on the side of the road, and dead bodies, often decapitated, that the cartels would leave behind."[31] Others who have traveled through this highway and have survived car hijackings and checkpoints the organized crime groups have installed from Padilla to San Fernando have confessed what happens on the highway.[72] A man who managed to survive a hijacking confesses on what he saw:

"There were four SUVs, all grey and with tinted windows. Everyone was armed."[73]

The violence and constant car hijackings have been so bad that bus lines avoid Mexican Federal Highway 101 by driving out miles away to avoid the road.[73] Another report from a woman who survived a hijacking said through El Universal newspaper that heavily armed men would stop buses at roadblocks, and then force women and young girls at gunpoint, "strip them naked, rape them," and then drive away in trucks, leaving the passengers traumatized.[73] One bus driver, "who said he had avoided being stopped thus far," claimed that another bus driver at the station had said that 12 people were pulled down of the passenger bus just 30 minutes before him.[73] Other witnesses claim that once the buses were stopped, gunmen would storm the bus and point at certain passengers and say "you, you're coming down," and take them at gunpoint.[72] The buses were then ordered to leave.[72]

During normal times, the Mexican Federal Highway 101 is the biggest and most important transportation system in the state of Tamaulipas, and it connects the state with Matamoros, Tamaulipas and Texas with the rest of Tamaulipas.[74] Local residents mention that there is only traffic on this highway during daylight.[31] As of 2012, they mention that the cartels "still kill people in San Fernando."[31] The United States has issued travel warnings south of the border.[75]

Unconfirmed higher death toll[edit]

On 17 June 2011, the Federal police captured Édgar Huerta Montiel, alias El Wache, a high-ranking boss in Los Zetas organization and the main responsible of the 72 migrants killed on 2010. He confessed in an interrogatory video that "more than 600 bodies" were buried in clandestine mass graves near San Fernando, but the Mexican authorities never confirmed it.[35][36] Isabel Miranda de Wallace, the leader of the organization Alto al Secuestro ("Stop the Kidnappings"), suspects that the mass graves in San Fernando, Tamaulipas have more than 500 corpses, but that the government of Tamaulipas has not released such information for the political implications it may instigate.[76][77]

Aftermath[edit]

Arrests[edit]

On 17 April 2011, in the capital city of Ciudad Victoria, the Mexican authorities captured Martín Omar Estrada Luna, alias El Kilo, lieutenant boss of Los Zetas in San Fernando, Tamaulipas and responsible for at least 217 killings in that locality.[78] Along with El Kilo, 11 additional Zeta gunmen were apprehended.[79] They were linked to the killing of the policeman and the investigator who were covering the massacres.[79] In addition, Estrada Luna was one of the masterminds of the massacre of the 72 migrants and of the mass graves found.[80] He was regarded by the DEA as "one of the most aggressive leaders in Los Zetas organization."[81] The Federal Police captured Édgar Huerta Montiel, alias El Wache, a high-ranking lieutenant of Los Zetas and the main responsible for the killings of the 72 immigrants, on 17 June 2011 in Fresnillo, Zacatecas.[82] Huerta Montiel was an army deserter before joining Los Zetas.[83] Huerta Montiel was the boss of Martín Estrada Luna, alias El Kilo.[84] Other Zeta lieutenants like Abraham Barrios Caporal, alias El Erasmo, was captured on 30 June 2011.[85]

The PGR offered up to $15 million Mexican pesos for information leading to the capture of those responsible.[86] In addition, the PGR led the investigation, and as of August 2011, 82 people had been arrested.[87] Some of those arrested were minors under the age of eighteen.[88] Top-Zeta leaders responsible for the attacks have also been arrested: Salvador Alfonso Martínez Escobedo, alias La Ardilla, was captured in late 2012, and Miguel Treviño Morales, Commander 40, was arrested on 15 July 2013. One Zeta leader accused of involvement was still on the run as of July 2013: Román Ricardo Palomo Rincones, alias El Coyote.[89]

Police implications[edit]

Marisela Morales, the current Attorney General of Mexico, mentioned in a communiqué on 13 April 2011 that 16 of those arrested were municipal police officers in San Fernando. According to the investigations, the policemen offered Los Zetas "protection and help them cover up the killings."[90] The president of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, criticized the governors of the Mexican states for failing to certify and regulate their police forces, who often aid the criminal groups in their activities.[91] Calderón condemned the fact that policemen kidnap civilians and then take them in their own police vehicles to the place where civilians are going to be killed.[91] The President then mentioned that although the government at a federal level is working to "clean up" the police forces, at state and municipal level, the improvements "have not been parallel."[91] A judge ordered the imprisonment of all the policemen implicated in the massacre on 18 April 2011.[92]

Exodus in San Fernando[edit]

After the massacre of the 72 migrants, the discovery of the mass graves, and the continuing violence between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, "fear" struck the citizens of San Fernando, and more than 10,000 of them left the city.[93] The mayor of the city, Tomás Gloria Requena, estimates that "around 10% of the population" left to "other towns and cities in Tamaulipas, and possibly to other parts of Mexico and the United States."[93] A priest of San Fernando, however, noted that those who left the city were directly "threaten by the organized crime groups," and that the arrival of the military has brought some of the tranquility the habitants of San Fernando wanted.[93] The priest confessed that when he drove around the city to go to other parishes, "heavily armed men with ski-masks ordered [him] to stop and identify [himself]."[93] They would let him go after he said he was a priest at a local church, but mentioned that "these risks happened to the whole population."[93]

Newspapers mention that San Fernando, Tamaulipas "stayed without policemen," and the ones that were from that municipality were either arrested or were assigned different functions.[94] The government of Tamaulipas believes that the "exodus of the citizens of San Fernando is transitory, and once order is reestablished, the families will be back again."[95] On 1 January 2012, the SEDENA thanked the soldiers in San Fernando for bringing order and for "reverting the exodus of San Fernando, an unfortunate phenomenon that occurred due to the violence and the criminal groups that operated in the region."[96]

Military-led responses and new base[edit]

On May 2011, the Federal government of Mexico sent more than 500 military troops to Tamaulipas to combat the drug cartels in the area and work together with the state forces.[97] In addition, retired soldiers were also called to voluntarily join in the fight against the organized crime groups.[98] A military base was established in the municipality of San Fernando on 18 January 2012.[99] The headquarters were inaugurated by Egidio Torre Cantú, the current governor of Tamaulipas.[99] The base hosts more than 650 military personnel.[99] Below is the welcoming speech Torre Cantú gave to the soldiers on their arrival at Tamaulipas:

"You all come here today to collaborate with the people of Tamaulipas, to show your love for this country and your call for service, and to participate in the establishment of law to bring tranquility to the citizens of this state."

Egidio Torre Cantú, governor of the state of Tamaulipas[97]

On another note, the military troops in officers also worked on "social projects" throughout San Fernando;[100] they provided medical care to the citizens, helped in the infrastructure of the city, provided free haircuts, helped repaint buildings, and picked up trash.[100] On November 2011, the military has took over the responsibilities of the police forces in San Fernando, and now patrols the city, answers the emergency calls of civilians, holds military checkpoints in highways, guards the municipal palace, investigates passenger buses and cars for drugs and other illegal goods, and directs traffic.[101]

Moreover, another military base was opened in the city of Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas.[102]

San Fernando after the massacres[edit]

Little by little, the people that left San Fernando, Tamaulipas are slowly coming back to the city.[103] However, the citizens still find themselves "scared," and they reportedly "mistrust foreigners."[103] With the arrival of the Mexican Armed Forces and the creation of the military base, San Fernando's social fabric and normality have been recovering.[103] In the city square, one can now see "a pair of lovers, bootblacks at work, people walking in the streets, and kids having fun."[103] Candy stores, restaurants, shoe stores, and other establishments have reopened.[103]

As of 2012, life in San Fernando appears to be calm, but once nightfall comes around, people are no longer in the streets.[104] After 10 p.m. every day, "San Fernando is a ghost town."[104] The last bus departure from Ciudad Victoria or Matamoros to San Fernando is at 6:10 p.m., when before the violence, buses drove to San Fernando throughout the whole night.[104] Taxi drivers used to wait for people arriving at San Fernando throughout all hours of the night, and now the last bus arrives at around 9:30 p.m., and everyone then closes their doors and goes home.[104] In 2012, it had been more than three years since the city of San Fernando had a carnival dance; the Ramón Ayala pub used to be the get-together place every weekend, and now it is closed.[105] Other bars have also closed too, as well as the cinemas.[105] According to Alberto Torres from El Universal, the people of San Fernando hold resentment toward the government, from the federal level to the state and local ones.[105] For more than two years, "they were abandoned and forgotten, left at their own luck, in the middle of a raging drug war."[105] A resident recalls what he feels when people from other parts of Mexico hear he's from San Fernando:

"You have no idea what it feels to go to a different place and say 'I am from San Fernando' and be discriminated."[105]

In addition, although the highways and dirt roads in Tamaulipas sometimes experience armed confrontations, as of February 2012, there have been "advancements" in the security measures of the highways in the state.[106] The PGR has not identified 159 of the 193 corpses exhumed as of April 2012.[107]

Controversy[edit]

Tamaulipas as a 'failed state'[edit]

The massacre of the 72 migrants,[108] the mass graves with nearly 200 bodies, the assassination of the PRI candidate for state governor, Rodolfo Torre Cantú,[109] the murder of two city mayors,[110] the numerous prison breaks and killings,[111] the escalating violence in Tamaulipas and the lack of media coverage,[112][113] along with the political and police corruption,[114][115] have brought analysts to conclude that Tamaulipas may in fact be (or become) a "failed state."[116][117][118][119][120][121][122][123][124][125] According to Gary J. Hill, a drug war analyst and chief member of the DEA, the organized crime groups have "gained ground over local governments," and have gradually subverted the abilities of the politicians in Tamaulipas.[125] The drug cartels corrupt and control the police forces in the state behind "the barrel of a gun" or with more money than what politicians can give them.[125] The cartels then enforce their own rules in the territories they control, and anyone who opposes them can be "threatened, kidnapped, tortured, and killed."[125]

The Televisa program of Tercer Grado, which hosts discussions of several journalist from different programs, concluded that Tamaulipas is a failed state.[123] Manuel Suárez-Mier, an Economics and drug war expert, believes that Mexico and Tamaulipas are "not failed states," since their economies are projected to grow starting in 2010, and the security measures stand in "a phase of reconstruction."[126]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b "Aumenta a 193 los muertos por matanza en San Fernando, Tamaulipas: PGR". Milenio (in Spanish). 7 June 2011. Retrieved 9 March 2012. 
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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 24°50′51″N 98°09′30″W / 24.84750°N 98.15833°W / 24.84750; -98.15833