REYNOSA — Strong words and an even stronger show of force highlighted Tuesday’s unveiling of the new security strategy aimed at restoring the peace in Tamaulipas, but details of the strategy were few and far between, leading various scholars to question the validity of the plan.
Mexican Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong and various top cabinet officials traveled to Reynosa on Tuesday morning for a meeting and afterward unveiled the strategy at the city’s cultural center.
The focus on security was highlighted by the more than 100 Federal Police officers, marines and soldiers who surrounded the compound as well as by the constant flybys by helicopters carrying snipers and machine gunners on the side.
At the beginning of the news conference, Tamaulipas Gov. Egidio Torre Cantu talked about the public safety crisis faced by citizens each day.
“This extraordinary state as you all know has been affected by very important problems insecurity and violence,” Torre Cantu said in Spanish. “We’ve had an increase in crimes that affect our society — kidnapping, extortion, highway robbery and the fights between organized crime groups.”
In recent days, cities like Tampico and Reynosa have seen an uptick in violence, stoking fear and panic among residents, Torre Cantu said.
The governor was referring to a series of internal struggles within the Gulf Cartel as well as the fighting between that crime syndicate and its former enforcers, the Zetas. In Reynosa, the fighting within the Gulf Cartel in recent days killed 23 people, including two bystanders, two federal police officers and a Mexican soldier. In Tampico, the constant fighting for control of the area by members of rival factions has led to more than 30 dead in recent days. In the state’s capital, Ciudad Victoria, a state police commander who headed the newly vetted police force was gunned down in an ambush carried out by the Zetas, which according to Mexico’s Proceso magazine was ordered by the head of the governor’s security detail and various police officers took part in it.
After Torre Cantu’s introduction, Osorio Chong talked about the various successes that federal forces have had in fighting organized crime.
“In the last weeks, Tamaulipas’ social well-being was touched by the actions of organized crime,” he said. “This circumstance is due to the fracturing by the groups brought about the strong actions against them by the federal government.”
Although there have been successes, the lack of results has led to society’s demand for a new strategy, Osorio Chong said.
“We’re in Tamaulipas to kick off a new phase of the security strategy that will renew the tranquility and safety of all Tamaulipans,” he said.
Osorio Chong said the security plan would have three goals:
>> The disarticulation of criminal organizations.
>> Sealing the routes used by drug traffickers, gunrunners and human smugglers.
>> Improving the efficacy and reliability of law enforcement agencies.
As part of the implementation of the plan, Osorio Chong said, federal law enforcement activities in Tamaulipas will be split into four regions, each with its own federal prosecutor and some measure of autonomy in how it tackles crime. Those four sectors will be the border, coastal, central and southern regions of the state.
As part of the strategy, Osorio Chong said federal authorities would focus on intelligence-driven efforts to target criminal organizations as well as working to dry up their sources of income.
He called for a cleansing of state and local polices as well as for the creation of a new police academy that would recruit and train better trained and better paid officers.
NEW SPIN ON OLD TACTICS?
The security plan is simply a very basic adjustment that lacks real substance and a set timeline, said Guadalupe Correa Cabrera, the chair of the government department at the University of Texas at Brownsville.
“This is very delicate because you can’t have federal forces taking over the job of state and local authorities for an indefinite time,” Correa Cabrera said. “That is just a temporary measure and it doesn’t strengthen the other agencies because they will rely on the federal entities to do the job for them.”
She said one topic not discussed in the news conference was the key to the problem in Tamaulipas: the rampant corruption at all levels that continually strengthens crime syndicates.
“You not only have to clean up the agencies, but you have to have a specific plan to keep the law enforcement agencies and the court system free of corruption in a long-lasting manner, and that wasn’t done,” Correa Cabrera said.
Although Osorio Chong appears to have unveiled a new pathway to peace and prosperity, that path will likely be colored red with blood, said George W. Grayson, a government professor at the College of William and Mary who has written several books about Mexican politics and drug trafficking.
“They are just moving the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Grayson said, referring to Mexico’s declining security situation.
The presentation made by Mexican authorities lacked important specific information and appeared to be rhetoric, at which the current government has been quite adept, the professor said.
Mexican President Enrique “Peña Nieto’s worst nightmare is to go into next year’s state and local elections with increasing violence in Tamaulipas, Michoacán and other states,” Grayson said. “He is very good at public relations, but now that the violence has spiraled out of control, what does that do to his image at election time?”
Although the Mexican government is expecting a big economic boom from a series of energy reforms that would open the door for private oil companies to invest in Mexico, Grayson wondered how much states filled with kidnapping, extortion and shootouts will appeal to investors.
“This was just more of the same,” Correa Cabrera said. “I am very disappointed.
“I was expecting to see a light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t there.”