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Violence in north Mexico heats up; so do protests

May 20, 2014

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The bodies of 16 people were found in two different areas of a northern Mexico border state where a surge in violence in recent weeks has triggered civic protests over drug-fueled killings.

The Tamaulipas state government said in a statement that police found the bodies of five men and four women in an empty lot of the town of Hidalgo on Monday. Nearby, three homes had been set ablaze, it said.

Hours earlier, Tamaulipas authorities reported the bodies of four men and three women were found stuffed inside a sport utility vehicle in the port city of Tampico on Sunday. State prosecutors said the unidentified bodies were the result of killings linked to “internal disputes between presumed criminal gangs.”

A week ago, activists in Tampico held a rare protest for peace in which about 12,000 people participated, organizer Eduardo Cantu said. On Sunday, about 1,000 people turned out for a peace march farther north in the state capital of Ciudad Victoria, the first of its kind in recent memory in that city.

“We can’t go on this way,” said Raul Villarreal Caballero, a store owner who was one of the organizers of Sunday’s march. “There are a lot of people already who have left Ciudad Victoria. I haven’t because we have a furniture store that has been open for 99 years.”

“There is a lot fear, but we put ourselves in the hands of the Lord,” he added.

Villarreal Caballero said people in the state capital were feeling a bit more hopeful with the federal government’s announcement last week of a new security plan for Tamaulipas. “We have some hope that this situation is finally ending,” he said of recent shootouts, road blockages and kidnappings.

The new plan includes appointing military commanders for security forces, blocking smuggling routes for people, weapons and drugs, and vetting local police for corruption.

Tamaulipas has been the scene of bloody turf battles between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas drug gang. Once one of Mexico’s most violent states, it had calmed somewhat by 2012, but violence has re-ignited in recent months.

Cantu, the organizer of the Tampico march, said protesters were not planning to step back into the shadows.

“We as a society have a responsibility to keep the pressure up,” Cantu said. “We have awoken for the first time. We have conquered the fear, a fear that is really tremendous.”

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