As the number of total homicides in Mexico has been slowly dropping, the sensational violence spikes higher, creating an atmosphere of instability that makes Mexicans and American visitors fear travel in wide stretches of country that even Mexican military leaders concede are not completely under state control.
The two gangs and their surrogates continue to quietly kill each other, but they are also staging public massacres in order to terrify civilians, cow authorities and taunt outgoing President Felipe Calderon, who has made his U.S.-
backed confrontation with the cartels a centerpiece of his administration.
“What was once viewed as extreme is now normal. So these gangs must find new extremes. And the only real limit is their imagination, and you do not want to know what is the limit of psychopaths,” said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst with the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a nonpartisan think tank.
In the past month alone, in what authorities describe as a gruesome version of text messaging, the two criminal groups and their allies deposited 14 headless bodies in front of the city hall in the border community of Nuevo Laredo and hanged nine people, including four women, from a bridge in the same city.
They have left 18 dismembered bodies in vans near Lake Chapala, an area frequented by tourists and U.S. retirees outside Guadalajara. They used a dump truck to unload 49 more corpses, missing not only heads but also feet and hands, outside Monterrey, Mexico’s main industrial city.
To guarantee the widest possible audience, they posted a video of themselves dumping the bodies, plus a banner: “Gulf cartel, Sinaloa cartel, marines and soldiers, nobody can do anything against us or they will lose . . . ”
It was signed with names of Zeta leaders.
“We’ve had over recent weeks these despicable inhuman acts in different parts of the country that are part of an irrational struggle mainly between two of the existing criminal organizations and their criminal allies,” said Mexico’s interior minister, Alejandro Poire.
Fighting among Mexican crime gangs is nothing new. What is new: the Sinaloa cartel creating alliances with former competitors — the Gulf cartel, the remnants of the Arellano Felix brothers in Tijuana, new elements of Michoacan’s La Familia gang — to beat back the ascendent Zetas and their allies, in what one security analyst compared to a narco-version of World War III.