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Narco Billboards Unlimited

Frontera NorteSur

News Report

Almost like a public relations blitz rolled out from Madison Avenue, so-called narco banners proliferated throughout the Mexican borderlands and interior in recent days. For four days running last week, narco banners were publicly displayed in numerous cities in at least 14 Mexican states. In some places, banners went back up almost as quickly as they were pulled down by authorities. States where narco banners were posted included Chihuahua, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Aguascalientes, Nuevo Leon, Guerrero, and Veracruz, among others.

Evoking a highly-coordinated campaign, the banners, with slight variations, had essentially the same message. Directed at Mexican President Felipe Calderon and three high-ranking federal law enforcement officials, including Federal Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, the anonymous authors urged officials to respect the sanctity of presumed narcos’ family members.

Alluding to official complicity with rival narcos, the message implored President Calderon to open his eyes to the “class of people” in charge of the narco war. Posted in various cities in Guerrero, a version of the message accused federal police of forced disappearance, murder and the rape of women in Nuevo Laredo and other unnamed places.

As in similar episodes, the modus operandi of the banner posters was the same. Large handmade messages, bearing practically the same wording, were draped across highly transited public thoroughfares under the cover of darkness, with pedestrian overpasses serving as popular, makeshift
billboard backgrounds.

In Acapulco, a narco banner was displayed across the Maxi-Tunnel that connects the older and tourist sections of the port city to the heavily-populated working class suburbs on the other side of the tropical hills that ring the Bay of Santa Lucia. In Oaxaca City, a narco banner was posted in front of the headquarters of the PRI party.

As in previous incidents, no one was detained, and there were no eyewitness accounts forthcoming. The geography of the most recent wave of narco bannering corresponded to areas where the Juarez, Gulf and Beltran-Leyva organizations have a strong presence. Mexican press reports this year have contended the three groups are now allied against the Sinaloa Cartel.

The narco banners’ effect on public opinion is not clear, but the ability of presumed crime syndicates to almost simultaneously set up what amount to public billboards across a big swath of the Mexican Republic challenges authorities’ assertions that governmental actions are seriously disrupting
cartel operations.

In Ciudad Juarez, the discovery of narco banners preceded the May 14 visit of President Felipe Calderon by mere hours. Accompanied by Defense Secretary Galvan, President Calderon reviewed Mexican troops assigned to Joint Operation Chihuahua, and rendered homage to 83 soldiers killed while serving on anti-drug missions.

During his brief visit to the Paso del Norte borderland, President Calderon announced the children of all soldiers will receive government grants for higher education studies, and soldiers as well as police
officers will be protected by tougher laws. The military’s role in the drug war is not “permanent,” President Calderon said, but will continue until reliable civilian police forces are in the field.

“It is worth the trouble to reiterate that our struggle isn’t to just liberate children and youth from the claws of slavery that addictions represent,” President Calderon said in a speech. “It’s also because crime has directed itself against the citizenry.”

Almost comparing himself to Mexican President Benito Juarez, who fought French invaders from internal exile in Ciudad Juarez during the 1860s, President Calderon vowed the narco will be vanquished in Ciudad Juarez.

“With (soldiers) at the front, the citizenry knows that Juarez doesn’t have to be a city destined for impunity, corruption or violence,” the Mexican leader said, crediting the army for what he termed an “important reduction” of violence.

On the occasion of the president’s visit, the local Diario de Juarez newspaper published an open letter reminding President Calderon of a previous commitment he reportedly made to get to the bottom of the murder of reporter Armando Rodriguez, who was shot to death last November in a crime that is still unpunished.

Within a 48 hour-period following President Calderon’s visit, at least 10 people killed in gangland-style slayings in and around Ciudad Juarez. Two men were machine-gunned to death the evening of May 15 in front of a large crowd inside the San Martin Bar, an establishment which is located across
the street from the local delegation of the federal attorney general’s office. One of the victims, Roberto Acosta, was reportedly celebrating his birthday.

An evening earlier, two severed heads were found within yards of their bodies near a Mexico-US border crossing south of the city. In other local incidents, a 16-year-old girl was reported snatched from a car in a popular shopping mall parking lot, and a man was shot and wounded while riding aboard a public bus.

Violence continued elsewhere in Mexico. In Aguascalientes, police commander Alberto Collazo Alvarado was shot and killed on May 14, while the body of a woman, Isabel Solano, was found stuffed in a car trunk in Chihuahua City on the same evening.

By Saturday, May 16, Mexican soldiers and police from different agencies were involved in a massive search and seal operation in several central Mexican states after an armed commando disguised as federal policemen busted 54 prisoners loose from the Cieneguillas prison in the state of Zacatecas.

And in the southern state of Tabasco, gunmen did not respect the narco banners’ family integrity message. A bloody attack this past week took the lives of Comalcalco police commander Baldomero Garcia Rodriguez and seven members of his family, including four children.

Sources:, May 14, 15 and 16. Diario de Juarez, May 14, 15 and 16, 2009. Articles by Sandra Rodriguez Nieto and editorial staff. El Universal, May 14, 15 and 16, 2009. Articles by Roberto Barboza, Irma Mejia and the Notimex news agency. Norte, May 15, 2009. Article by Felix A. Gonzalez. El Sur, May 15, 2009. Articles by Aurora Harrison, Noe Aguirre and Agencia Proceso., May 14, 2009. Article by David Diaz. Frontera/SUN, May 14, 2009.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico

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