Drug Wars in Lerdo

Last update 21 August 2011

Here is a perspective from the middle of a drug war that has raged in my area for the past couple of years.  I’d like to share with you my take on the activities in my town, Lerdo, Durango, which is adjacent to Gomez Palacio, Durango and Torreón, Coahuila; collectively the three cities are known as Laguna.   I have collected a bunch of notes from my journal.   It’s quite long, but I hope you will find it worth the time to read.  I should start by saying I have not been harmed, and I don’t know anyone who has been.  Thank goodness!

This diary ends on  21 August 2011.  The warring drug gangs and the authorizes continue to kill each other on a regular basis.  Nothing much has changed in recent years, so I don't see any point in repeating the same awful stories.

It all started in the summer of '08.

4 July 2008

My friend who works in the police department has brought me up to date on the latest in the gang war being fought here.

Recently, a  funeral wreath was hung on the city hall front door with the police chief’s name on it. He resigned, took his family, and moved out of town. That was followed by several late night shootouts.  Several decapitated heads have been found in the main plaza; all were known local drug dealers.

A couple of nights ago, 7 truck loads of heavily armed gangsters wearing sky masks burst into police headquarters and delivered an ultimatum. Any policeman, including traffic cops, found on the streets after 11:00 PM will be killed. They went on to say that this was only a war between gangs and that civilians would not be harmed, but the police must not try to interfere. The new chief has issued an order that all cops must return to the station at 10:00 PM; no police on the streets after 10:00.

Of course, none of this gets into the paper because the gangs have ordered the paper not to print anything about them.

If this can happen in a little out of way place like Lerdo, what must be happening across the country that is being kept secret from the public?

11 July 2008

This has been an eventful week in sleepy little Lerdo.

First the cast of characters: Nery, Misael and Karla are my English students. My friend and chief protector, Enrique, and my friend Johnny who runs the English school where my guys go 4 nights per week. Then there are  the local home-town narcos and the invading gang who call themselves the Zetas (Zeta is the Spanish word for the letter Z).

Monday lunch time: Karla's aunt who works in a restaurant, reports that a group of heavily armed men came into the restaurant, ordered the owner to lock the door, took all the cell phones from the diners, and set down to order lunch. After they ate, the paid the bills of everyone in the place, returned the cell phones, and very politely thanked the people for joining them for lunch. They drove off in their big black trucks. No word on how many Tums were needed.

Tuesday in the early morning, Johnny went downtown to the plaza where he found a line of the Zs' black trucks facing a large group of the local police in the streets and on the roof tops with their rifles at the ready. Johnny turned around and peddled his bike as fast as he could back home. Apparently no shots were fired. I'd love to know how the stand-off ended.

Wednesday afternoon in a neighborhood on the far western side of town, there was a running gun battle between some locals and the Zs. Deaths or wounds, if any, are unknown.

Thursday night all hell broke loose. Nery came to my house early Friday morning to report his eye witness account.

After class at Johnny's school let out at 8:pm, Nery and a friend were walking together when they were stopped by a running gun battle with the Zs in the big black trucks chasing some locals in various vehicles. People on the street were taking cover as best the could behind cars, or laying flat on the sidewalks, or running away as fast as they could. Nery was able to take cover in his aunt's house a couple of blocks away. After about 30 minutes of shooting around a park, the Zs left the scene and headed toward the highway. Deaths or wounds not known.

Misael and Karla had left Johnny and were waiting for the bus two streets over from the battle street. Just as the bus arrived, a swarm of people came running up to get on the bus to fee the war zone.

Meanwhile, Enrique was at his mother's house, They heard gun shots, so he and his brothers went up on the roof of the two story house. There they had ringside seats to another gun battle happening on the other side of the freeway at a known drug house. They counted 8 local narcos in a shoot out with about 40 Zs. Enrique had the presence of mind to check his watch. The battle started at 8:05pm. At 8:35, the Zs abruptly got back into their trucks and sped away. About 30 minutes later the army arrived.

After things calmed down, Enrique and his brothers went to the scene where they found the ground littered with spent shell cases. He brought home a sack full, including several live rounds. One local narco was killed (17 years old); the number wounded is unknown. One Z truck was left behind because the tires were shot flat. Inside and around the truck was a very large amount of blood. The Zs had taken their dead and wounded with them. Also killed were two of a neighbor's cows.

Friday morning while Nery was here telling me his story, Enrique came out to tell his tale. Neither guy knew of the other's gun fight. I find interesting that both battles started at the same time, ended at the same time, and both groups of Zs fled in the same direction on the freeway shortly before the army arrived. Coincidences? I don't think so.

Friday morning the army had a large presence around the plaza where they went from store to store telling the owners to close early Friday and Saturday nights. Nearly everyone was closed by 5, and the word on the street is that most will not open at all on Sunday.

No shootings on Friday.

I should add that thus far no civilian blood has been spilled. A lot of folks have been scared half to death, but not injured.

28 July 2008

The situation is worse than previously reported. Nery just came to fill me in. His sister works for the police department. She says at least 5 police have been killed in the main station. Some others are missing -- dead? AWOL? Only the male police have been shot. The lady cops in the station were beaten. The narcos stormed the mayor's office to kill him, but he was not there. A traffic cop was kidnapped. He has been found dead. At least three civilians were killed in the crossfire.

Downtown is locked down tonight. For clean-up I guess.

Everyone is asking Why little Lerdo?  Where the hell is the army?

My guess is we will have no police tomorrow. Probably nobody will show up for work in city hall tomorrow.

29 July 2008

The army is patrolling downtown this morning. There is a reported sighting of Zetas in the area.

I have been searching on-line news reports and have found several. Each seems to have a somewhat different take on the events of yesterday. None of the stories has all the facts (not a surprise), and some of the them have major facts wrong.

I was in Sam's early this morning (7:30). Usually, when I go early on Tuesdays (my weekly shopping day) I am the only customer in the store. This morning there were several merchants with huge loads of sodas and other mini-mart items. Strange to see that on Tuesday; that kind of traffic usually happens on Friday and Saturday mornings.  I guess the merchants are unsure when they can get out again.

Several regular employees seemed to be missing. There was only one car boy -- usually 5.

2 August 2008

The drug war has been quiet since the big shootout on Monday.

Tuesday morning several policemen resigned. The rest of the force gathered in front of city hall in civilian clothes -- no uniforms -- and said they were on strike for better pay, life insurance, and better equipment. The mayor agreed to their demands. Pay increases between 50% and 100%. The lowest paid officers received 100% increases. More guns, ammo and vests are on the way.

The police chief has resigned. That makes two chiefs gone in two months.

The army has moved in with plans to stay for a while. They have established an armory with a lot of weaponry and men.

Things are looking up in little old Lerdo. And it rained last night; our second rain of the season. 

8 August 2008

At long last the army has arrived in great numbers -- 500 soldiers and equipment plus 200 federal police. They have established an armory with plans to stay for the foreseeable future. Lerdo has breathed a collective sign of relief.

I find it amusing and ironic that the armory is located on Sinaloa street since Sinaloa is the name of one of the warring drug gangs.

There is still a sense of foreboding. Although the Zetas have said they are leaving, before they go they have promised one more big event that will be a reminder of their past presence. It is known that they stole a large amount of dynamite from the local stone quarry. The fear is they will try to blow up city hall.

9 August 2008

I was downtown twice today. Never in my years in Lerdo have I seen so many cop cars on the streets -- brand new cars and pickups cruising up and down the streets.

I made a point of driving by the army's new digs. The gate was open so I could see a lot of vehicles and men inside. Interesting irony: the new armory is in the very large, luxurious compound of a deceased drug lord.

15 August 2008

Things have been wonderfully quiet around here since the army arrived in force.

There was a bit of news from Torreón when the cops found a Zeta garage with 15 vehicles ranging from a taxi to several SUVs.

3 September 2008

Let me tell you a little story about a friend.  I first met Pepe through my extended family when he was a college student. He came to my house several times for help with his computer drafting class. He was a very nice young man working hard to make a better life for himself. He graduated from college a couple of years ago with a degree in industrial engineering. He couldn’t find an engineering job, so he joined his father and brother in the family taxi business. He got married, had a child and was able to afford a nice apartment.

Since I am not a drug user, I did not know that his family’s taxi business also included a sideline selling drugs from their taxies – very common here. When the recent unpleasantness erupted here in Lerdo with the killing of three drug dealing taxi drivers, Pepe and his family could see where things were headed, so they moved away. This prompt action probably saved their lives. Over the next few weeks, until the army arrived, several more street-level dealers were killed.

I tell you this story to help you understand that many street-level drug sellers are often just ordinary family men with a little business on the side. They are not demonic characters lurking in dark allies and corrupting children, as they are so often portrayed on TV. When these men are killed, it impacts their families and friends, most of whom didn’t even know about their drug sideline. Extended Mexican families tend to be very large, so the death of a single small time dealer/family man could impact 50 people or more. The same applies to the policemen who are killed in the drug wars.

The drug wars are not the result of taxi drivers shooting at each other or at the police. They are high-level “corporate” wars by the suppliers of drugs. These are dangerous people. These cartels leaders are fighting for control of the traffic – how the drugs move within México and how they move North. As in any war, it’s the ordinary soldiers (street dealers in this case) who get killed. Or as a business model: one manufacturer tries to eliminate another by disrupting his distribution network.

While it is true that civilians are rarely killed in these drug wars, it is not true that they are unharmed. When the bread-winner of the family is killed, the wife and children are very harmed. While these drug wars are having a tremendous impact on the people of México, the impact on ex-pats and tourists is minimal. However, for those of us ex-pats who are integrated into a Mexican family, the impact is very real and heart-rending.

6 September 2008

Things are calm and quiet here. The army and Fed cops have done an outstanding job. I saw one of my pot smoking friends today. I asked if there was any pot in town. He said there were no drugs of any kind. He said he was glad the army is protecting his family, but he misses his evening smoke.

22 February 2009

In mid-September the floods came and lasted until late November. During that time the army and the floods seem to have kept the Zetas at bay. But since the first the year, they have returned in force. Things are still fairly quite in Lerdo, but in other parts of Laguna there have been a number of gun battles between the Zetas and the army + federal and local police. In the past week more than 20 men have been killed and an unannounced number wounded. Several Zetas have been captured – the exact number seems to depend on who’s doing the counting.

In one of the most blatant attacks, a hand grenade was thrown into an army check point at the approach to the main bridge between Gomez Palacio and Torreón. Three men were killed and others injured. Traffic on this main artery was disrupted for hours.

One of the most bizarre events yet happened last week at the university where my friend Nery is a student. The university just moved to a brand new, very nice campus north of Gomez Palacio. It’s on a dirt road about two kilometers from the highway going north to Juarez. Last week three large black SUVs loaded with masked men carrying big guns arrived on campus. The small local police guard group beat a hasty retreat. The Zetas confronted the Jefe of the university and informed him that he was not to hold classes in the afternoon. No explanation given. Morning and night class could continue, but not in the afternoon. The school pleaded for the army to setup a road block, but the army is stretched too thin, so afternoon classes have been suspended for the time being. This kills two of Nery’s classes. Much head scratching over this one.

Two days later, the city stationed more police on campus and the school returned to a full schedule.

Reacting to the drug gang violence has been hampered by squabbling and poor coordination among the local police, the federal police and the army. This has been an especially acute problem in Torreón where the police force is widely perceived as ineffective and corrupt. The army has arrested around 35 Torreón policemen for corruption. The army has not been without its own problems. Several soldiers where arrested for looting houses they were assigned to guard. All this leaves the citizenry with a low confidence in the authorities. I don’t know anyone who thinks the end is in sight, if there is an end.

25 February 2009

A further update: This morning's paper reported that thus far the month of February has seen two killings per day in Torreón and Gomez Palacio. The police chiefs of two outlining towns have been arrested for gun and drug violations.

Last summer, my little Lerdo was the center of the drug wars. Today, it is the quietest part of Laguna. I hope it stays that way.

20 April 2009

I haven't reported recently on the drug wars here because nothing much has changed -- shoot outs, murders, beheadings, terror continue largely unabated.

Some recent events of note:

The head of the jail in Gomez Palacio and 11 officers have been arrested and are awaiting trial for arranging an escape of 5 drug gangsters.

In Torreón the authorities busted an auto body shop which was engaged in armor plating vehicles for Los Zetas. Also found were a bunch of heavy weaponry.

This morning's Torreón newspaper reports that prostitutes can no longer be found working the streets at night. They are too afraid.

The restaurant association says business is off by more than 25%and many restaurants are now open only on weekends.

Back in September, there were no drugs to be found on the streets of Lerdo.  That has changed -- drugs can be bought again.

In addition to the drug wars, common crime is also on the up swing due to the tanking economy. Bank robberies, car thefts, store holdups and home invasions are all way up. My friend Gloria's tienda on my street has been robbed three times recently.

25 August 2009

The drug wars are still with us, but the violence has been considerably tamped down by the presence of 2,000+ soldiers in the tri-city area. Most are deployed in Torreón where the local police force has been decimated by the firing of 300+ officers for various forms of malfeasance.

In another near-by town, the army has replaced the entire police force. In an act of total humiliation of the local cops, the army had the door to the police station welded shut.  But now the local folks are complaining that the army is not keeping them safe - robberies, burglaries and car thefts are way up.

The army was called upon to quell a riot at the state prison in Gomez Palacio last week.  20 inmates were killed.  The army discovered a large number of knives, hand guns, long guns, bomb making material and drugs. A few  months ago, the warden and several guards were arrested and charged with corruption after the escape of several high-value drugers. Obviously, they didn't get rid of all the bad guards.  Now, the new warden and several guards have resigned saying they fear for their lives.  The situation continues to be tense.

One of the people killed in the prison riot was the man who murdered my friend Johnny, the long-time English teacher here in Lerdo.  I wrote about that tragedy a while ago.

Well, well, well - I just got interrupted by a knock on my door.  Four army guys with big ugly guns had come to search my house looking for guns and drugs.  They did a pretty thorough job.  They looked in every cabinet, pulled out every draw, etc.  I was surprise that they ignored the suit cases in the closet.

These searches have been going on for the past few weeks.  My friend at the police department tells me that several large weapons cachés have be found as well as a lot of drugs.  Several bad guys have been arrested.

For years, I was a card carrying member of the ACLU.  If such a
warrantless search took place at my house in the USA, I'd be pretty bent out of shape.  But when you live in the middle of a drug war, priorities change.   I'm damn glad to see the guys.

Bank robberies, car thefts, and other non-drug related crime has
increased as the economy has soured. But that is no different than the rest of México and the USA.

Life goes on.

3 September 2009

The wars in my area are heating up again.

Last week, just after the army checked out my house as I reported above, the 2,300 army troops that have put a lid on things were pulled out with no explanation. But now the army has returned, thank goodness!  A belated announcement explained that the withdrawal was a planned rotation of troops to help reduce the chances of the troops becoming corrupted by the drug gangs. The 2,300 replacement guys are new.

They did not return in time to prevent the Zetas from killing three Lerdo policemen in an unsuccessful attempt to free a gang member from the local jail. The police station/jail is a part of city hall and is located next door to an elementary school in the middle of down town. This was not the first shoot-out at the station.  The mayor has been saying for some time that he wants to move the station to a less populated area; but there is no money for a new station. After this shoot-out, he came up with an interim solution. The regional police academy has been moved to the civic gym, and the police station and jail have moved to the old academy quarters on the edge of town in a non-residential area. The folks down town are greatly relieved.

Just as the army arrived in Gomez Palacio, they were met by a large group of Zetas on the periférico (
circumferential highway) in a populated area. There ensued a major gun battle complete with RPGs and other heavy arms fire. No announcement of casualties yet.

This stuff is getting really old!

16 September 2009

For the second year in a row, there was no Independence Day parade.  The safety authorities decided, for unannounced reasons, that it was unsafe, that the Zetas might attack.

To add to the local anxiety, the state water folks announced that there has been so much rain the mountain watershed of the Rio Nazas that it may be necessary to release water from the dams again this year.  A possibility of a repeat of last year's flood is not welcome news.


3 December 2009

Our drug war got ugly again last night. The new police chief of Gómez Palacio was gunned down as he got out of his car at his home in my neighborhood.

We still have several thousand army and fed cops in the area. They have done a lot to tamp down the violence, but it still lurks just around the corner.

Common crime is way up -- auto thefts, muggings, home invasions, and many store robberies. The combination of store robberies and the bad economy is forcing some stores to close, others to reduce their hours.

I can't believe how things have changed in just the past three years. But I'm staying.


30 December 2009

A family from California was spending the Christmas holidays with her family in Gómez Palacio. They went to a local bar, Iguanas Ranas, to have a few drinks with a group of her former classmates.  Around midnight, a group of heavily armed, masked men stormed in to the bar.

There are conflicting reports of what was said by the bad guys.  Some witnesses quote them saying “Whose truck is that?”  Others report hearing “Who’s the cop.”  It is entirely possible that both happened.  The bad guys frequently are interested in stealing nice trucks, and they are always interested in killing cops.  These bad guys are presumed to be the Zetas, but there is no proof of that,  It possible, although less likely, that it was some other local gang.  Not all the bad guys are Zetas, but this was very likely their work.

The six men in the party, including the guy from California, were abducted by the gangsters.  The ladies were unharmed. It is possible that the men were taken because one or more of them was suspected of being a cop.  It is less likely that one or more was recognized as local drug dealers affiliated with a rival gang.

The six were found dead the next morning shot execution style with no signs of torture. The lack of torture suggests that the gangsters did not think the men were narcos or cops.

The common theory here is that the action was to teach a lesson to the owner (and others) who was resisting paying protection.  This is not the first such event in Gómez and Torreón. Bar and restaurant owners are really in a bind. Their business is way off because of the economy and because of fear of the Zetas. The owners are struggling to stay in business, and now the Zetas are demanding money the owners just don't have.

We will probably never know the real why.  One thing that is sure: this was a very uncommon event.  Civilians are rarely harmed in the drug wars.  No one knows if it portends bad things in the future or if it was just a fluke.


10 Jan 2010

Figures just released show that violence spiked in Lerdo and Gómez Palacio in 2009 to 301 homicides. The figure is triple the 99 murders in 2008.  The statistics from the Forensic Medical Service show that 90 percent of the homicides last year were related to organized crime. Most murders were committed using firearms. In 2008 homicides related to organized crime accounted for 70 percent, and in that year, besides the use of firearms, there were several beheadings.

In Torreón killings were also on the rise; last year there were 159 homicide.  In 2008 there were 80.

The population of Lerdo+Gómez is less than half that of Torreón, yet the murder rate is almost twice as high on our side of the river.  To me, this says the heavier presence of the army and federal police in Torreón has made a big difference in where the Zetas like to operate.


23 Feb 2010

My area has, for the first time, been listed by the US State Department as a danger zone.

The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.  Recently, the cities of Durango and Gomez Palacio in the state of Durango, and the area known as “La Laguna” in the state of Coahuila, which includes the city of Torreón, experienced sharp increases in violence.  In late 2009 and early 2010, four [sic] visiting U.S. citizens were murdered in Gomez Palacio, Durango.  These are among several unsolved murders in the state of Durango that have been cause for particular concern. (Actually it was one visiting citizen and three local guys.


On same day the alert was issued, there was another serious gun battle on the far eastern side of Torreón. When the battle was over, there was one dead bad guy, three wounded civilians, and one captured vehicle with an arsenal of weapons, which included a Browning machine gun, two AR-15 rifles with grenade launchers, 8 grenades, a shotgun with a grenade launcher and a grenade.  In addition, 1,237 cartridges of different calibers, and caps with insignia of the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI).

No police/army were wounded.  The three wounded civilians were on a passing bus which was shot up by the bad guys.

Life goes on.


6 March 2010

This one is so bazaar and unnerving that I hesitated to even post it, but...

It's not clear just were the Lerdo policeman was killed. What is known is that his headless body was dumped near the police academy on the main drag with a sign warning that the Chief would be next. Then one of the killers stood by the side of the street waving the officers head at passing motorists. He fled before the police arrived.

10 April 2010

It looks like, maybe, the Zetas have withdrawn from the area to engage the army in the major actions that are happening in north-eastern México.

We still have lots of local crime, especially car thefts.  The insurance people report that vehicle thefts are up more than 100% over last year.  They also report that many more people are buying insurance.  I guess that's a good news bad news situation for them.


25 July 2010

The past week has been busy and tragic as the drug wars in the area are heating up again.  Here is a run down of the weeks news as best I know it.

18 July 2010.  Torreón  At 1:30 AM Sunday, an unknown number of gunmen traveling in a convoy of between 5 to 8 trucks entered a birthday party being held at a party villa known as the “Italia Inn” and massacred 17 partygoers, including 5 women.

Another 18 people survived the attack with gunshot wounds and many were in serious condition in local hospitals. At least 5 of the survivors were women. 

One of the wounded later died at the hospital, raising the count to 18 dead..

According to statements from survivors, the gunmen blocked the entrance and shouting “kill them all”, opened fire on the fiesta.

It is now known that the people at the party were not the reason for the attack. The action was against the owner, just as one of the other recent massacres in Torreón was against the owner of a club. In this latest attack, the owner had been publicly warned several weeks ago. It's all about drug gang warfare. In the sick minds of the drugers, the quickest way to kill a business is to kill the customers.

23 July 2010.  While being tortured, a kidnapped Lerdo municipal police officer told his Zeta interrogator that it was a group from a rival gang who did the shooting. Their leader was a jefe (boss) in the cartel who is currently in jail at the Durango state prison in Gómez Palacio. He was released to do the shooting and returned to the jail after the act. The idea was to make it appear it was done by the Zetas in order to discredit them. He apparently still runs his organization out of his cell. The You-tube video of the cop's confession is making news in the Coahuila media.  .

25 July 2010.  From Sunday's Torreón newspaper:

Elements of Durango State Police maintained security in the prison, after the arrest of the directors, heads of trustees and at least 31 guards.

Federal authorities are investigating whether prisoners, whose departure would have been permitted by the principal or the prison guards were involved in the killing of 17 people at a party last Sunday and if they used weapons of their own guards.

The former director of the Cereso, Margarita Rojas Rodriguez, and three former heads of trustees, who had been detained by the Attorney General of the Republic (PGR) were delivered to the Attorney General of Coahuila, which put on hold for 20 days

History of troubles at the state prison in Gómez Palacio.

20 April 2009. The warden and 11 guards were arrested for arranging the escape of several high-value drugers.

25 August 2009. The army was called upon to quell a riot at the prison. 20 inmates were killed. The army discovered a large number of knives, hand guns, long guns, bomb making material and drugs. The new warden and several guards resigned saying they fear for their lives.

July 2010. The lady warden who was hired to replace the last one is now in jail along with much of her staff. The prison is now in lock-down by the state police.

In addition to the Lerdo policeman whose admission under torture exposed the latest scandal at the prison, four other Lerdo policemen (2 men and 2 women) were kidnapped and presumed murdered; their bodies have not been found.

CNN-online is now showing part of the torture video.

1 August 2010.  I was shocked to learn just now that the policeman shown in the torture video had worked as helper on my Las Casas building project 8 years ago. I did not recognize him in the video. He was just a teenager 8 years ago.

The prison warden and three of her top aids have been transferred to México City in the care of the Feds.

10 October 2010:  After a fairly calm summer, things have heated up big time here in Lerdo.

Last week the city police captured a Zeta guy. That set off a rash of vengeance killing by Los Zetas. Six officers have been killed. One was tortured and then dragged to death behind a truck. Another was killed in his own home. Today 40 officers resigned saying they could not protect themselves and their families.

6 July 2011.  The cartel problem has not gone away, but it is not nearly as active as it was a couple of years ago. Both the army and navy are patrolling the area now. That helps a lot. The Zetas, the principal trouble makers, are very busy in northeastern México, so they have pulled most of their forces out of our area.

Home-grown crime is way up, especially car thefts, home burglaries, and robberies of neighborhood markets (tiendias).

21 August 2011.  This is from a Stratfor Report::


Gunfight at a Soccer Match in Torreon

A gunfight erupted in Torreon, Coahuila state, at around 8 p.m. on Aug. 20, after a three-vehicle convoy of gunmen reportedly crashed through a security checkpoint outside the Territorio Santos Modelo soccer stadium. No one was killed or seriously injured during the shootout. Security forces closed the doors of the stadium -- likely preventing the deaths of fans who might have panicked and run out into the gunfight -- and established a security cordon around the facility.

Adelaido Flores Diaz, the director general of public security in Torreon, confirmed that the gunmen were targeting a Public Security Patrol, rather than the stadium or the fans therein. Stray bullets did enter the stadium. The gunmen evaded arrest by using caltrops (small, four-pointed spikes used to deflate vehicle tires) to slow pursuing authorities. Their truck was found abandoned and containing three high-caliber weapons and two grenades.

The shootout in Torreon illustrates the role geography plays in Mexico's drug trafficking operations -- a role of which cartel leaders keenly understand the importance. Cartels must not only move contraband into and out of the country, but also across it. Situated in central Mexico at the intersection of a couple of major highways, Torreon is a critical hub for cartels moving product to northern Mexico and, eventually, into the United States. Control of Torreon helps facilitate the movement of product from Mexico's Pacific coast across the country to smuggling corridors, such as Nuevo Laredo and Ciudad Juarez, on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Because cartels understand the importance and vulnerability of their own supply routes, such gateway cities have become hotly disputed territory. Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation have been fighting for control of Torreon for some time, and members of one or both of those groups were very likely among those involved in the shootout. We can expect to see continual violence in the city as the Zetas and Sinaloa continue to vie for unfettered control of transit routes. Unfortunately for Torreon, its geographic location predisposes it to such violence and increases the psychological impact of "terror," which STRATFOR has previously addressed.

Indeed, aside from the geographic issue, there is also a notable psychological component to the incident in Torreon. Soccer is by far the most popular sport in Mexico, often used as a means to escape the realities of daily life. In a country where the populace does not often have much reason for optimism -- corruption is rampant and violence, often grotesque and public, is commonplace -- fans can always cheer for their home team and take pride in their city when victorious. While Torreon is unlikely to stop hosting soccer matches altogether, the psychological impact of the Aug. 20 gunfight is an affront to a cherished pastime. It signifies a permeation of violence into every aspect of Mexican life and robs Torreon's citizens of a respite from news of prolific violence, making a return to normalcy seem all the more remote.

Moreover, the game was a high-profile event, airing not only in Mexico but also the United States, and a number of fans documented the episode on cameras and phones. (None of the fans actually recorded anything but the sounds of the gunfire. During the live telecast, the game's announcers discussed what was happening, who was responsible and how to escape.) Such publicity serves as a reminder that while Mexico's war on drugs directly affects comparatively few -- those in cities such as Torreon -- the violence it causes can be seen by anyone with an Internet connection.


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