A car bomb went off on Saturday in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, killing a police officer and wounding three others. This is the second such device to be used by Mexico’s increasingly violent drug cartels, further branding the criminal syndicates as “narco-insurgents” and prompting comparisons to the drug violence that rocked Colombia in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
According to Mexican daily El Universal, police forces have linked the attack to the Zetas, who allegedly placed an unidentified corpse in the vehicle and hung several posters in its windows, on which a series of threatening messages to the police were written. These conditions led police officers to open the trunk of the car in order to attempt a search, which triggered the explosion.
As CNN notes, the attack bears similarity to a bombing that took place in Ciudad Juarez last July, in which a man was dressed in a police uniform and left for dead in an abandoned vehicle. The presence of the uniformed body lured authorities into opening the car, which caused the bomb to detonate, killing four.
Because that was the first time in the country’s history that a car bomb was used to target police, some analysts believed that the “rules” of the game had changed. In fact, it may have been last July’s car bombing that led Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to make her controversial comparison between Mexico’s drug cartels and political insurgencies last September. Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC, Secretary Clinton said “It’s looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, where the narco-traffickers controlled certain parts of the country.”
Although the Secretary’s claims drew criticism from the Mexican government and prompted security spokesperson Alejandro Poire to issue a relatively sharp rebuttal, the increase in car bombings and the fact that politicians are increasingly being targeted reinforces the Colombia comparison.
In the 1990s, as guerrillas, paramilitaries and the Colombian security forces all waged war for control of large swaths of the the country, particularly where drug crops proliferated, politicians and other public officials were common targets for attacks from either side. Assassinations of high-level politicians were common in Colombia, similar to the incident in which Mexican gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre Cantu was killed this past June.
Perhaps as an indicator of the comparison’s fit, the Washington Post reported last week that an increasing number of Mexican soldiers and policemen are traveling to Colombia in order to receive counter-narcotics training.
The article cites a recent interview with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, in which he calls for closer security cooperation between the two nations, saying “Mexico has what we had some years ago… very powerful cartels.”