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35 Dead 'Zetas' Dumped on Busy Street in Veracruz, Mexico

The bodies of 35 alleged Zetas members were left beneath an underpass in downtown Veracruz, south Mexico, in the latest sign that the group is taking a hit to its activities on the Gulf coast.

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Motorists along the busy avenue of Ruiz Cortine in the Mexican port city of Veracruz encountered a gruesome roadblock on Tuesday afternoon: two abandoned pickup trucks, each carrying more than a dozen dead bodies. According to eyewitness accounts, an number of masked men had stopped traffic along the road around 5:00 p.m., pointing weapons at passersby as they opened up the gates of the truck beds before abandoning the vehicles.

The men also left an ominous “narcomanta,” or drug banner, claiming that the victims had been killed for their allegiance to the Zetas:

This will happen to all those Zeta s---- who remain in Veracruz. The plaza now has a new owner: G.N. Here lies "El Ferras" and his royal court.

According to state Attorney General Reynaldo Escobar Perez, several of the victims have been identified as possible escapees in a prison breakout that occurred on Monday, in which 32 inmates from three different prisons allegedly managed to overcome their guards and escape. Several of them were captured soon after, but 18 remained at large on Tuesday. The jailbreak was blamed on the Zetas, for whom the activity is something of a specialty. In 2010, the state of Tamaulipas lost more than 350 inmates to jailbreaks, most of which were attributed to the Zetas.

The banner’s mention of “G.N.” is a clear reference to the Gente Nueva, an enforcer gang which has been linked to Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo.” Gente Nueva got their start working as hitmen for Guzman, and have been blamed for contributing to the violence in the border city of Ciudad Juarez. There the group earned the reputation of being a bitter enemy of La Linea, a gang who serve as foot soldiers for Vicente Carrillo FuentesJuarez Cartel.

Interestingly, “El Ferras” is the alias of Felipe Ferra Gomez, an individual who became an Internet celebrity in 2008 after a video was posted online of him bragging to police about murdering an individual. The video has received over 13 million hits on YouTube. Although his death has not been confirmed, Ferra was reportedly among those who escaped from prison on Monday. So far as is known, Ferra did not have anything like enough importance in the criminal world to merit being named in a narco banner as the cause of 35 deaths. Thus, he may have been targeted for the public recognition he gained the Internet, offering another proof that what happens online can have real life consequences in Mexico's drug war. Last week two individuals were killed and hung from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo, apparently for criticizing the Zetas on a popular blog which tracks organized crime.

Like Nuevo Laredo, the city of Veracruz has traditionally been Zetas territory. The murders would appear to be a direct affront to their control of the “plaza," which is perhaps not surprising considering that the Zetas have come under increasing pressure in recent weeks. Earlier this year, narcomantas signed by the Sinaloa, Gulf, and Familia gangs were hung around Mexico, declaring their intention to band together in a common front against the Zetas. In early July the Mexican government formally announced that dismantling the group was the first priority of their security strategy, and U.S. president Obama recently designated the Zetas as the target of sanctions under the Kingpin Act, allowing the Justice Department to seize the group's assets in the country.

If the Gente Nueva are indeed behind the attack, this indicates that the Zetas are facing a new enemy in Veracruz. As noted above, the Gente are based primarily in the northern state of Chihuahua. Their arrival to Veracruz not only suggests that they may be winning the battle in Juarez, but also that they are developing as a serious criminal force in their own right. As InSight Crime has reported, there has been some infighting between Gente Nueva factions in recent months, supporting the theory that they are ready to expand their turf into other parts of the country.

(See video report, below, with images from the scene).

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