TOPICS > Politics

Shootings Elicit Fear Across Mexico

October 28, 2010 at 6:13 PM EDT
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Gunmen killed six men in Mexico City on Thursday, the latest incidents of violence in Mexico's drug war. Margaret Warner talks to Nicholas Casey, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal in Mexico City.
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MARGARET WARNER: For more on this recent spate of violence, and what makes it different, we’re joined by Nicholas Casey, a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, in Mexico City.

Nicholas, welcome.

What is new about these kinds of attacks, these massacres, really?

NICHOLAS CASEY, The Wall Street Journal: Well, obviously, Mexico is a very violent place.

But, in the last few days, we have had three huge massacres. This is not normal, even for the usual rhythm of violence which happens here in Mexico. This is kind of a first. And there are smaller attacks which have gone on in addition to these larger ones.

Of course, like, the question that follows is, why are these attacks so big right now? The ones that happened weren’t in any particular region. They were actually all throughout the country. So, the best guess, given that no one has contact, regular contact, with any of these people ordering up the attacks, is that perhaps these groups are trying to get bigger and bigger headlines.

And, right now, it’s seen that a dozen people, it’s the number of people that you actually have to kill to get on the front page of the newspaper here.

MARGARET WARNER: So, who is believed to be behind these attacks, and why do they want bigger headlines?

NICHOLAS CASEY: Well, there’s a lot of different groups involved, likely. I mean, no one has been caught, but the…

(CROSSTALK)

MARGARET WARNER: But these are drug — but you’re saying these are cartels? I mean, are they drug cartels?

NICHOLAS CASEY: So, likely — likely drug cartels, likely groups that are involved in organized crime, which doesn’t just include drugs. It includes pirating, transportation of people across the border, a number of elicit activities, drugs being the biggest of them.

But many of these groups are also in turf wars in different areas. The reason for getting attention often is because one group will want to send a big message at a national level against one of their competitors. This is often seen when you see a massacre which may or may not involve a group from a rival cartel.

Of course, everyone is at the beginning of trying to figure out what happened in many of these cases. But it is possible that this was some sort of revenge. And the reason for trying to get bigger headlines is so they can broadcast their revenge out there in kind of a propagandistic way.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, is there a rhyme or reason behind the victims? In a couple of these, they really look to be civilians. And, in one case, the birthday party in Ciudad Juarez, there were a lot of teenagers.

NICHOLAS CASEY: That one is probably the most mysterious one, in that that was a birthday party. It’s not a group of drug traffickers getting together.

We don’t know at this point. One thing that often happens is that, when a group is targeted, the wrong group is targeted. Again, these are criminals. They are not — they don’t belong to any government group. They don’t have a lot of information, and they don’t always have the best intelligence.

Earlier this year in Juarez, there was a group of 15 people who were killed at another party which took place at the beginning of the year. At first, the president even came out and said that it was kind of a settling of scores between different groups. It turned out, after they caught someone who said he was involved in this, he said they had just gone to the wrong party and had killed everyone there because they had some information that some of their rivals were there.

In the case of the birthday party, that could have been exactly what happened. But, at this point, we don’t really know.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, how is this affecting — you have been in Mexico City for a couple of years now. How is this affecting Mexicans you know? How does it affect their daily lives? How do they cope?

NICHOLAS CASEY: This is really tough, because about three, four years ago, these problems didn’t happen in Mexico at all. And, certainly, this week, it’s gotten a lot hotter, a lot more problematic.

I just got back from a trip to Reynosa, which is in the north of Mexico, across the border from McAllen, Texas. And that’s an area which is controlled very heavily by the Gulf Cartel. And it’s amazing just how nervous people are to even talk about what’s happening there.

The people I talked to didn’t want to give their name. And even when they talked about the Gulf Cartel, this group which has its hand almost in everything, including the publication of news there — they have control of a lot of the reporters — people didn’t refer to them as the Gulf Cartel. They referred to them as the mafia, just because you don’t want to be seen in a public space talking about the Gulf Cartel publicly, because they’re thought to have eyes and ears out in a lot of places.

MARGARET WARNER: But, briefly, how does it affect their daily lives? I mean, are they ready to send their children to birthday parties?

NICHOLAS CASEY: Ah, yes. Well, that’s the problem. People don’t go out at night in a lot of these areas. They have parties, but only invite very close friends, so no one that might be involved in the drug industry ends up coming.

And, also, people just are more aware of where they are and what they do, and have really sort of scaled back. Also, people have left Mexico. Many of the people that have means in the northern states have homes or have moved their family out to Texas at this point.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Nicholas Casey, it’s a grim picture, but thank you for helping us fill it in.

NICHOLAS CASEY: Thanks.