The Mexican army has established a base in Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas, once a popular, bustling tourist town. Most of its 6,300 residents fled last year due to drug violence, but now have begun to return, according to an AFP article published today in Mexican newspapers.
Mier’s location near the Texas border made it a valuable — and heavily disputed — center for cocaine trafficking. By this time last year, the violence had become unbearable, and the town was all but abandoned. Some people returned to Mier this year.
President Felipe Calderón on Thursday ceremonially inaugurated the new army installation, which bases a 500-member infantry battalion in Mier to reassure the residents who want to return, the news article says.
“We are telling the people of Tamaulipas that they are not alone, that the government is here to protect protect them,” Calderón said at the heavily guarded ceremony in the city on Thursday.
Mexico’s Ministry of Social Development estimates that 4,500 people have returned to Mier in recent months — almost three-fourths of its pre-war population.
Mier shows the ravages of the “war on drugs,” the article says, noting burned-out buildings and colorful walls scarred with bullet holes. But among it all, Christmas decorations recently have begun to appear.
“Mier exemplifies other (cases),” Calderón said. “It is painful because it is full of beauty and tourist sites, but due to the action of organized crime, first visitors stopped coming, and then the people sought refuge in other cities and, Mier, magical city, became a ghost town.”
Sanjuanita Garcia, wife of Mier Mayor Alberto Gonzalez, acknowledged that her family was afraid of the drug gangs and joined the exodus.
At first, the fighting was early in the mornings, but then it started happening in broad daylight, and people started leaving, she said. In April, the people slowly began to return, and there have been no confrontations so far.
“We feel more at ease,” Garcia said in the article. “My son, who lives in the United States, has come to visit and even at night we went out. All that remains is to return more people.”
The Mexican government says military operations have forced the drug gangs that once controlled Tamaulipas — particularly the brutal Los Zetas gang — to move farther south to states such as Veracruz and Nuevo Leon. The violence in Tamaulipas has been attributed to the criminal organization created in the 1990s by deserters from the Mexican military.
Government operations in Tamaulipas were bolstered after August 2010, when the bodies of 72 immigrants were discovered in San Fernando, another village in the state. The immigrants — from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador and Brazil — allegedly were kidnapped and killed by Los Zetas.
In addition to the army headquarters in Ciudad Mier, the Mexican government is establishing another base in San Fernando. It is expected to be completed before the end of the year.