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Mexican Drug War Chokes Nuevo Laredo With Fear


The city of Nuevo Laredo, which hugs the border of south Texas, is the latest hotspot in Mexico's violent drug war. Over the past two weeks, over 70 people have been killed there in drug-related violence. Monica Ortiz Uribe from member station KJZZ visited the city and she found a community terrified and afraid to even speak.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

MONICA ORTIZ URIBE, BYLINE: On the morning news show broadcast out of Nuevo Laredo you'll hear announcements about a lost green card or a 7-year-old's birthday. What you won't hear is anything remotely related to organized crime. Reporters in this city are tightly self-censored.


URIBE: When I arrive, colleagues starting texting: Don't trust anyone. Don't take a taxi. Don't walk around by yourself. And don't interview people in public. The trouble is Nuevo Laredo is under the tight grip of the Zetas drug cartel. They have lookouts everywhere. For locals, even uttering their name is taboo. People here call them los de la letra, or the letter people. In Spanish, Zeta stands for the letter Z.

GILBERTO NAVARRO: It's very hard to gather any information.

URIBE: Gilberto Navarro is the police chief of Laredo, Texas right across the border.

NAVARRO: In Nuevo Laredo there is a turf fight. You know, basically the Zeta cartel is the one that has the territory. The Gulf cartel also is battling for that same turf.

URIBE: The turf dispute is responsible for much of the current violence. Last week, nine corpses were dumped near the outskirts of the city. Making matters worse, 131 inmates last week escaped from a prison in Piedras Negras, about two hours outside Nuevo Laredo. The onslaught of violence has choked the city with fear. Humberto Palomares teaches at a local college.

HUMBERTO PALOMARES: Most of the people now is not going out in the evening. Most business in the city are closing earlier.

URIBE: I traveled to Nuevo Laredo with a specific reporting plan, which quickly fell apart when I arrived. The army colonel I planned to interview was caught in a gun battle and business owners were afraid to talk on tape. Finally, I found a driver who agreed to take me around the city.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: I won't share his name for his own safety. As we drive, he asks me to keep my microphone below the windshield.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: He says he hears constant gunfire in his neighborhood. It sounds like car crash, he says, only louder. We turn the corner and observe a city that's deceivingly peaceful. A neighborhood yard sale features soccer jerseys and bicycles. Downtown, people are catching the bus and shoppers stream into local businesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: But then, we weave into another neighborhood. A convoy of soldiers passes by. My driver points to a yellow house with an ornate wrought iron gate. It looks brand new, except the garage is a burnt-out shell.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

URIBE: Local gangsters often set fire to rivals' homes. But in this case, my driver says, they hit the wrong house. A family of three was killed, including a 5-year-old girl. Like most crime stories, this one didn't make the local news. Unlike me, local reporters don't have the benefit of crossing back into the United States after their work is published.

For NPR news, I'm Monica Ortiz Uribe.


GREENE: Monica's story came to us from Fronteras, a public radio collaboration in the Southwest that focuses on the border and changing demographics


GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.