Mexico’s murder rate up, official warns of ‘narcoterrorism’

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s murder rate inched up 2% in the first 10 months of the year, but the latest violence has included much more brazen challenges to authorities.

Federal officials said late Wednesday there have been 29,414 homicides so far in 2019, compared to 28,869 in the same period of 2018.

But northern border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo have seen a constant round of drug gang blockades recently, with gunmen burning buses and trucks to block roads and bridges.

On Tuesday, one policeman was wounded and at least two blockades of burning vehicles were reported in Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas. The blockades are used to prevent police and military units from pursuing suspects.

And in early November, drug gangs paid addicts in methamphetamines to burn cars, trucks and buses and kill people, in order to pressure authorities.

The governor of the border state of Tamaulipas, where Nuevo Laredo is located, said the gangs have committed acts of “narcoterrorism.”

Gov. Francisco Garcia said the gangs “have used civilians as human shields.”

“Their behavior is one of narcoterrorism. It’s a very serious issue,” said Garcia.

The recent violence has also touched areas previously considered peaceful.

For example, the popular ruin site of Monte Alban in the southern state of Oaxaca was forced to close for several hours on Tuesday because of a gunfight in a village near the archaeological site in which one man was killed and another wounded. That case apparently involved a land dispute rather than cartels.

And the victims of recent violence have also included U.S. citizens. In early November, cartel gunmen killed nine American women and children in the northern border state of Sonora.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday he would be willing to meet with relatives of the American victims, who belong to a dual-national community that has lived in Sonora and Chihuahua for decades.

But he warned the families that he preferred to meet only with them, and said he hoped they wouldn’t come with anti-crime activists.

“It would be better, much better, if this didn’t get mixed up with the opportunism that breaks out after such regrettable events,” Lopez Obrador said. The president has angrily rejected any criticism of his security policy, even after he ordered the army to back down and release a top drug suspect. He has refused to meet with prominent anti-crime activists like Javier Sicilia, claiming they are part of a “conservative” opposition to his policy.

The president argued his administration had managed to “stabilize” the rise in killings, which early in the year had been growing by double-digit percentages.

“This is the issue that most concerns us, the issue of public safety,” said Lopez Obrador, adding, “It is also the issue that most concerns the public.”

But he stuck to his policy of reducing violence “without the use of force, because that is the new security policy we are putting in practice: not to fight violence with violence.”

In a book published this week, Lopez Obrador argued that his administration was doing better than his predecessors, at least in terms of saving the lives of military personnel.

In the first 11 months of his administration — which started Dec. 1, 2018 — only 14 soldiers and marines had died in confrontations, compared with an average of 51 per year between 2010 and 2012.

However, critics say that is because Lopez Obrador has largely ordered the military to avoid confrontations with drug gangs and other criminals.

Lopez Obrador argued that the armed forces were acting with greater respect for human rights, detaining more suspects uninjured, and killing and wounding fewer under his administration.

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