C&B Notes

Monterrey Overcomes its ‘Drug Problem’

Monterrey, Mexico has been marred by drug violence that exploded earlier this decade.  Thanks to improved policing efforts and a cooling of the territory gang wars, the city is becoming safer again.   This shift bodes well for industry, as the city’s northern location makes it an important manufacturing and distribution center for products destined for other parts of North America and beyond.  Richard is visiting the city next week.

It is one of those small, hopeful signs that this traumatized city may be awakening from the nightmare of Mexico’s drug wars: Armando Alanis once again feels safe enough to stop off for a late-night nosh at Tacos Los Quiques, a beloved sidewalk food cart.   “We couldn’t have done this two years ago,” Alanis, a 44-year-old poet, said recently as he chowed down on tacos gringas in the dim glow of inner-city streetlights.  “It would be wrong not to recognize what we have regained.”

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These days, the headline-grabbing horrors that exploded three years ago — the running street battles, the dumped or hanging bodies — are less common.  The number of homicides has plummeted, on track to be less than half this year what it was in 2011.  A new state police force, vetted and well paid, patrols the streets in place of the old corrupt one.  The conversation about just how far Monterrey has, or hasn’t, come recently has been revived by a series of grisly crimes that appear to be linked to business owners’ failure to pay “protection money” to criminals: The butcher shot in the head Sept. 5.  The bakery supply salesman slain Sept. 24.  The four patrons of a suburban bar killed by gunmen Sept. 26, their deaths apparently a message to the owner to pay up.   “The situation continues to be a delicate one,” said Gilberto Marcos, a Monterrey businessman and the president of a neighborhood coalition.  “We’re not ready to proclaim victory.”

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Though trouble had been brewing for years in Monterrey’s rougher neighborhoods, the peace was fully shattered in February 2010 as the Zetas, the former armed faction of the Gulf cartel, began fighting its former bosses for control of the city’s retail drug trade and lucrative drug shipment routes to the border, less than three hours north.  The city’s homicide rate skyrocketed by 300% from 2010 to 2011, reaching 700 deaths.  Residents, and the nation, were shocked: Monterrey had long been one of Mexico’s wealthiest, safest cities and home to important textile, beer and construction industries.  Many members of the business-owning elite fled to Texas or Mexico City.  The U.S. government ordered the children of its diplomats to leave town.  Get-togethers with friends and relatives moved from public to private spaces.  It was a reality that many swaths of Mexico suffered, and continued to suffer.  But Monterrey took advantage of its wealth and the strength of its business community, which agreed to higher taxes to fund the Civil Force after many police officers in the old force were found to be collaborating with the cartels or otherwise untrustworthy.