Is #Tamaulipas a #WarZone?


Three months ago in Copenhagen, I was in shock when a fast-food receptionist who spoke a little English asked me where I came from, and when I answered that I was from Mexico, his first reaction was to make a gesture with his hands like guns shooting and then telling me: “Oh Mexico! The gangsters! Very dangerous, isn’t it?” Unfortunately, that question didn’t surprise me at all.

It is very clear to me that Mexico’s reputation in the eyes of the world is currently highly related with the drug trafficking and all the violence that has come with it for at least the last twenty years. It is sensible to appoint that the distribution of violence in Mexico is based on its geographical and sociohistorical process of organized crime. As a federation, Mexico has 31 states and one capital city, but 3 of them are in the top list of violent activities, considered as dangerous as war zones. Those states are Guerrero, Sinaloa and Morelos according to Mexican Peace Index performed by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

In 2010, Mexico had a high index of violence of 2.7 (zero means most peaceful) and in 2015 it returned to its 2008 level of 2.2. In the north-east Tamaulipas state case, in 2015 it was considered as few peaceful since it had an index of 2.7 occupying the number 8 of the country top list, out of 32. Considering that the less pacific state is Guerrero with an index of 3.8 and the most peaceful is Hidalgo with 1.7. However, I’m completely sure that so far in 2016, Tamaulipas could be placed in one of the first three places of the violence top list because in only six months, its situation has gotten worse.

According to the Mexican Survey of Urban Public Safety performed in June, 2016, 70 percent of Mexicans surveyed had a negative public safety perception of their cities. In Tamaulipas, 73 percent of the surveyed had a negative public safety perception in average. Also, three Tamaulipas cities had a very negative safety inhabitant’s perception: Reynosa had 85 percent, Nuevo Laredo had 73 percent and Tampico had 62 percent. In Tamaulipas, the rates of crime and victimization have increased every year. The rates were 30 percent in 2010 and they went to 42 percent in 2014. The extortion is the main crime together with robbery in public spaces and in 2014 only 11 percent of the total crimes were reported to the authorities (ENVIPE, 2015).

All kinds of violence in Mexico are related but lately the specific case of Tamaulipas has become extremely overwhelming. Tamaulipas´ situation is extreme basically for two reasons: first, currently it is in a big territorial control competition between two different organized crime cells that used to belong to a big group that lately lost several of its leaders. Lately, the competition has entailed murders of local families unlinked with crime activities. The second reason is that both, the state of Tamaulipas and the federal governments appear not to give enough attention to the state´s violence problems. Consequently, the main Mexican public mass media haven’t given enough space to the Tamaulipas violent affairs in their news.

In Tamaulipas, there have been 81 murders so far in 2016. However, in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas´ capital, in only one week (11-18, July) 19 persons were murdered and 8 of them were children (SESNP, 2016). According to the Texan media Breitbart, around those days, one of the crime cells that is competing for Tamaulipas territory attributed to itself those murders. Also, people from that criminal organization posted in different social networks some street pamphlets in which they threatened the state and federal governments explaining that they will continue killing innocent people if the governments wouldn’t supply money and security again to its crime organization. For sure, those criminal actions are highly related with the recent Tamaulipas political party change from the past June, 2016 state elections. Besides those threats, on Friday 15 July the Mexican Federal Government sent 600 soldiers to Ciudad Victoria.

The Tamaulipas government has insisted in different press releases that its state is not a war zone. However, in my opinion what is happening in Tamaulipas is very close to a civil war. Civil war is between groups of people in the same country which entails civilian and non-civilian fatalities casualties. In Tamaulipas case, it is been performed an armed confrontation between two groups for economic reasons: the state territory to control drug trafficking. Also, the governmental intervention by using its militia, is reinforcing the civil war characteristic of the situation (Kalyvas, 2007).

On 14 July the Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, gave a message on Twitter condemning the violent attacks placed in Nice and showing sympathy for the French. The same happened 8´th of July but, that time, Peña Nieto tweeted about Dallas, Texas attacks. However, there weren’t any similar tweets by him during the hard violent days in Tamaulipas. I think it´s fair to ask: why didn’t the president show sympathy for the victims in Tamaulipas like he showed for the Nice and Dallas ones?

So far, the Mexican government has tried to contain the Tamaulipas situation of violence only with military actions. However, when is the government going to take long term actions against violence? It has been proved that the Mexican violence issues have become from complex sociohistorical processes such as the Ciudad Juarez case. There, children that were left alone in the street used to join criminal organizations because their fathers were in USA for looking for jobs and their mothers were working all day in sweatshops (Valencia, 2010).

Mexico needs long term non-violent governmental actions for reversing the process of crime organization that take place in many of its states. For instance, one clear public action could be to rescue the children that are alone all day in the streets. Nevertheless, how public policies to prevent violence can be even planned when Mexican government doesn’t even feel a little sympathy for its citizens that have been victims of violence? Maybe, some public acknowledgement about the violence from the government can entail that the issues could be shown in public mass media properly. Therefore, it is time for the Mexican government to call the issues of violence for their real name: in theory, Tamaulipas is currently in a state of civil war and future public actions against violence should be based on that fact. Let’s start with something as simple as that, for future Mexican policy making regarding violence prevention and containment.

Juan Carlos Finck Carrales



Institute for Economics and Peace (2015) Índice de Paz México.

Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (2015) Encuesta Nacional de Victimización y Percepción Sobre Seguridad Pública (ENVIPE). Principales resultados Tamaulipas. INEGI: México.

Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (2016) Encuesta Nacional de Seguridad Pública Urbana (ENSU). Marco conceptual. INEGI: México.

Kalyvas, Stathis N. (2007) Civil Wars in Boix & Stokes: The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Politics. Chapter 18.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública (SESNP) (2014) Análisis de Información por Año, Entidad Federativa, Delito y Mes.

Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública (SESNP) (2016) Informe de víctimas de homicidio, secuestro y extorsión.

Valencia, Sayak (2010) Capitalismo Gore. Melusina: España.

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