Police Face Mass Kidnappings in North Mexico

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The unexplained abduction of a police chief and ten of his subordinates is part of a spate of attacks against officials in Nuevo Leon, in another illustration of the worsening security situation in the crucial north Mexico region.

Milton Alvarado, the police chief of Apodaca, Nuevo Leon, was abducted on Saturday along with seven members of his security detail, while attempting to negotiate the release of three other members of the local police department who were kidnapped earlier in the week.

Citing anonymous sources, Excelsior reports that Alvarado and his men were part of an elite police unit that had been linked to organized crime.

In contrast, Apodaca Mayor Benito Caballero Garza said that the missing men had passed vetting exams and had clean records. He suggested that the kidnapping might be a result of “some type of confusion.”

The reason for the officers’ abduction remains mysterious. They might have refused to work with criminal groups, colluded with the wrong group, or just been the unlucky subjects of a mix-up, as the mayor suggested.

Whatever the reason, the abuction is not an isolated incident, but one in a series of attacks against Nuevo Leon officials. Seven state police officers were kidnapped in the town of Guadalupe in March by an unknown group. Their vehicles were found abandoned and riddled with bullet holes. Six more officers, from the roads and transport police, were reportedly abucted elsewhere in the state on May 5, bringing the total number of police kidnapped in the state in the last two months to 24.

Government officials have also been the target of violence. Edelmiro Cabazos Leal, the mayor of a Monterrey suburb, was murdered last August, reportedly after his government arrested some members of the Zetas. Prisciliano Rodriguez, mayor of Doctor Gonzalez, was killed alongside an employee less than two months later.

The attacks against police and government officials are part of a general uptick in violence in the state over the past year and a half. The capital, Monterrey, is valuable to criminal groups both for its local drug market and as a major transport hub just a stone’s throw from border crossings like Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, and Matamoros. Before the recent bout of violence, Monterrey was reputedly a favorite spot for drug capos to live. Like the rest of the city’s residents, they enjoyed the relative tranquility that the region offered.

But with feuding between various drug-trafficking organizations, the number of murders related to organized crime in Nuevo Leon increased more than five-fold between 2009 and 2010, up to 620, according to reports. This year the figure has spiked even further, with more than 350 people in Nuevo Leon murdered in incidents related to organized crime in the first three and a half months of 2011.

Much of the fighting has been attributed to a split between the Zetas and their erstwhile allies in the Gulf Cartel; both groups have traditionally operated in the nation’s northeast, where Monterrey is located. In addition to the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, the Beltran Leyva clan, which was part of Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel before their split in 2008, has long had a presence in Monterrey, though its role has declined thanks to the death of many of the group’s leaders.

The violence is jarring less for its extent — Nuevo Leon still has an annual murder rate of between 25 and 30 per 100,000, which is far less than many parts of Mexico, and even some cities in the U.S. — than for its impact on local authorities. Attacks on police and other government officials have become commonplace occurrences both in Nuevo Leon and neighboring Tamaulipas, as the various criminal groups seek to punish government officials who either refuse to assist them or collude with their rivals.

Monterrey’s fractured governing structure — the metro area is actually made up of six municipalities with six separate governments, in addition to the state and federal governments — presents a number of different targets for criminal groups looking for sanctuary, and complicates efforts to respond to this threat. Partially in response to this challenge, in January the federal and state government announced a plan to consolidate the state’s municipal police forces under a single chain of command, though the funds behind the initiative — roughly eight million dollars — is a paltry sum in a city with several million residents, which is facing such serious security challenges.

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