Matt Briscoe and Bryan Motley
Stretching from just northwest of Laredo to the Gulf of Mexico lies the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. Some of its largest cities lie right on the border with South Texas and often, the sounds of gunfire can crackle through the night like the war zone that it has become. But there are people here who are trying to control the violence and that carry a vision for what this region of Mexico could look like not far into the future.
The police here in Tamaulipas fight a near daily battle with local drug lords who are not wanting to give up their territories that they have controlled for years. In fact, in a war that has stretched on for over a decade the tactics and the sophistication of the cartels is becoming more and more elaborate. Not only do they have advanced weaponry such as laser sight machine guns and very technical assault style rifles to shoot at police, rival gangs and innocent bystanders, but they have maintained an elaborate network of intelligence hardware that allows them to closely monitor the movement of police and anti-cartel forces.
The police here have a very difficult job as it is and for every new tactic they develop, the cartels and drug lords develop a new counter tactic. Things like hidden cameras that relay real time data back to control centers where cartel operatives analyze and distribute it to operatives who are fighting in the field against police and special forces. Of those devices are networks of hidden cameras that are disguised in everything from parked cars to street lamps. It is this level of sophistication that makes controlling these cartels so very dangerous.
Police here in Tamaulipas are routinely attacked by drug lords and their operatives. Just in the month of January, police here near Nuevo Laredo have been involved in over 100 shootouts with gang members. They believe that they have killed some 60 combatants, but officials here feel that this is only a small representative number.
Mexico sees over 30,000 deaths from gun violence each year. Mexican government estimates suggest that some 30% of those deaths come from advanced tactical weapons smuggled in from the United States and for police here in Mexico, they say that the drug and gun trade go hand in hand, and it is big business–a business that cartel leaders are not willing to give up easily.
In fact, Tamaulipas is considered to be one of the most dangerous regions in the world and officials in the United States have it listed as being a high level conflict zone, akin to places like Syria and Afghanistan. Is it as bad as the Americans claim? By all estimates it is and it might be only getting worse.
Police in Tamaulipas work day in and day out trying to get a handle on the situation and while it seems that there is little progress, there are some forward thinking visionaries who are looking to the world for help and it probably is not in the way that you are thinking.
“For many years here investors have been investing in corrupt companies that seem to engage in legitimate business,” says Paul Cervantez, a local businessman in Reynosa. “But those legitimate businesses were sending big dollars back to the cartels for permission to operate in these regions.”
But Cervantez, along with others want to change that mentality, but they understand that they have to change the mindset of the people who call this place home.
“We need to offer them something and not just anything,” he says. “We need to offer them strong jobs, sustainable income and a trust that things will get better. We have to instill in our people that they are worth more than what the cartels are making them out to be.”
For years, Cervantez says that the people of Mexico have become so depressed and frustrated with the cartels and drug lords that they have taken an attitude of “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Cervantez points out that that it has been an ongoing thing for the better half of a century that if the politicians were not keeping the people oppressed then it was the cartels. Oftentimes, he notes, that they were one and the same. But some here have an idea.
A group of Mexican investors are seeking foreign investment dollars to help improve the economic situation of this region of Mexico. How are they doing it? They are letting their hopes and dreams of a better society ride on the wind.
In near the community of Llera is what is known as the Eolica Tres Mesas IV project, which is expected to come online within the next few months and not only is it creating clean energy for the people of Northern Mexico, but it is creating financial stability and jobs. In fact, many of the turbine towers are made in a plant located nearby in Matamoros, where good paying jobs are desperately needed.
“There are 15 here now and by the time we are finished with this portion of the project, we hope to have 24 turbines up and running,” says Cervantez. “I hope to see this make a big change in our community and in the lives of people who have suffered so much at the hands of criminals.”
But while he feels like there is progress being made here from a fiscal standpoint, the police still have their hands full dealing with the violence.
“What we need is for the Americans to cooperate with us and not act like they are on the defensive,” says one Mexican police official. “The government over there is focusing so much on immigration and drugs coming into their country that they almost forget about the contraband coming into our country.”
While most would agree that illegal immigration is a problem that needs to be addressed over in the United States, officials here say that they need help controlling the demand for what the cartels have to offer.
“America has a huge market for drugs and there is no shortage of customers there,” says the Mexican official. “But they need to understand that we see most of the guns in this region coming from their side and because we are fighting the drug lords, we do not have resources to stop the inbound contraband.”
Amid the gunfighting and near daily bombardment there is hope, but that hope still seems like a long way away here in Tamaulipas. But for some, there is hope and they have a prayer–a prayer that may just be riding on the wind.