Monterrey Mexico Succumbs to Drug Violence
Monterrey Mexico is not a city that would immediately come to mind when discussing the hot spots in Mexico’s current drug war. As Mexico’s most modern city and just under 150 miles from the US border, Monterrey sports gleaming skyscrapers, shopping malls, and world-renowned universities. In 2005, the city ranked as the safest city in Latin America. As a result of free trade agreements with neighboring countries, such as the United States, Monterrey experienced an influx of money and investment, especially in the manufacturing industry. Cemex, a world leader in cement, FEMSA, a beverage maker, and General Electric are a few of the major corporations that do business in Monterrey. In 2002, Monterrey hosted a UN conference on development; George Bush called it a “model” city.
Recently, however, Monterrey has suffered through intense drug violence the likes of which it has never experienced. For instance, a college student was recently killed by a bullet to his head during open gunfire at a popular downtown mall; other bystanders suffered serious injuries.
Because Monterrey is Mexico’s wealthiest city, it was inevitable that the fighting would find its way there and into the lives of its four million residents. Two rival gangs, the Gulfs and Zetas, have laid claim to Monterrey and are openly warring with each other for control. Commentators observe that the fighting came to Monterrey almost without warning about four years ago, with inadequate law enforcement and drug lord corruption providing for easy access. About half of the police force have been fired due to links to the drug war. There has been an increase in civilian casualties, as well as an increase in killings of politicians and journalists. In response to the invasion at Monterrey, the government of Mexico has (belatedly) ordered an increase in military presence and federal police in the region.
Most residents of Monterrey now live in fear of being carjacked or caught in the crossfire of the two gangs, a far cry from the days when industrial leaders were able to freely move about the city in luxury vehicles to visit trendy and expensive restaurants and shops. In 2010, over five hundred people have been killed due to the drug trade, a ten-fold increase from 2009.
What started as collateral damage, however, has turned personal. In an effort to supplement proceeds of the drug trade, Monterrey’s legitimate business community leaders have become targets of extortion and kidnapping schemes concocted by area drug lords. The head of the city’s commerce, retail and tourism chamber estimates that over sixty percent of business owners received extortion threats in 2010. He also estimates that companies are spending as much as five percent of cash flow on security, which has benefited companies that sell alarms, locks and cameras.
The US Government has responded to the increase in violence in Monterrey by ordering all US diplomats to relocate their families from the area; a recent shooting outside the prestigious American Foundation School has rattled American parents. Citing security concerns, the Jonas brothers cancelled a concert in Monterrey this past October.