Drug War Besieges Mexico's Northern Metropolis Thousands of soldiers and police are being deployed in a city better known as the Mexico headquarters of multinational companies like Whirlpool and Hershey's. Monterrey's peaceful, hard-working image has been shattered over the past few months as rival cartels fight for control of the city.
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Drug War Besieges Mexico's Northern Metropolis

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Drug War Besieges Mexico's Northern Metropolis

Drug War Besieges Mexico's Northern Metropolis

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We're going next to Mexico, where the fight has come to one of the country's most prosperous cities. The northern Mexican city of Monterey had a reputation as a peaceful and hard-working place. It is also the capital of state of Nuevo Leon, and it's the scene of increasing tension.

Authorities announced this week that soldiers and police will begin patrolling around public schools. Five thousand teachers will be trained in how to respond if a gun battle takes place near their classrooms.

As NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, drug cartels are fighting for control of the city.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Monterey has become famous for the Narco-Bloqueo, or the Narco-Blockade. Since the beginning of the year, members of the Zetas cartel have taken to shutting down the city's main thoroughfares whenever it suits them.

Earlier this month, after the Mexican army captured, allegedly, the Zetas' top operative in Monterrey, gunmen waded into traffic with their weapons drawn. They pulled drivers out of their cars, trucks and buses, then turned the vehicles sideways in the streets. The blockades caused instantaneous gridlock. The idea was to try to block the soldiers from moving through the streets with their prisoner.

Mr. JAVIER TREVINO CANTU (Secretary General, Monterrey): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The secretary general of the local state government, Javier Trevino Cantu, says the Zetas set up 28 blockades across Monterrey that day. The local media counted 40 barriers. Traffic was tied up for hours.

TV news footage showed gunmen ordering terrified children out of cars at gunpoint at the height of the afternoon rush hour. Trevino says the scale of the chaos is a sign of how badly the government is hurting the criminals. But the blockades also show the power of the cartels to disrupt with impunity the entire city.

Mr. RAMON ALBERTO GARZA (Newspaper Editor): Myself, I've been living here for all my life. Never in my wild dreams I will believe that I will see this in my city.

BEAUBIEN: Ramon Alberto Garza is a longtime newspaper editor in Monterrey. He now runs Indigo Media, a national online news outlet. He says Monterrey used to be a very secure city. Locals have a reputation for working hard and playing hard. Alberto Garza says there used to be lots of discos and places to hear live music.

Mr. ALBERTO GARZA: Little cantinas. Little antros, we call antros here, the places where you go to have fun and enjoy. And suddenly those antros are being closed. Why? Because they don't have people who go there anymore.

BEAUBIEN: People here view Monterrey as a bit superior to the rest of Mexico. They view themselves as being above the chaos and poverty that's rampant in other parts of the country. And the statistics, at least, back them up.

Per capita income in Monterrey is twice the national average. One suburb boasts that it's the richest neighborhood in Latin America. Monterrey Tech is the top university in Mexico. The area is home to some of Mexico's richest families, most prosperous companies, and many large U.S. firms. Whirlpool, Hershey's, Mary Kay Cosmetics, for instance, all have significant operations here.

Mr. FERNANDO TURNER (President, National Association of Independent Businessmen): This city once was very peaceful, was very livable, and right now we don't feel ourselves that confident and that secure.

BEAUBIEN: Fernando Turner, the president of the National Association of Independent Businessmen, says Monterrey still offers great business opportunities, but the recent drug violence is a problem.

Mr. TURNER: If you are developing a new line of production for a customer, like, say, an automotive company, they need to come and inspect the check. And they are not that willing to come, you know.

BEAUBIEN: Just about every day the local papers report some new, spectacular crime. Late last month, the chief of the Monterrey Transit Police was kidnapped along with his deputy. Over the last three weeks, more than a dozen police officers from the area have been abducted and killed. One was even decapitated. In April, masked gunmen stormed the Holiday Inn and hauled off several guests. They haven't been heard from since.

During the first couple of years of President Felipe Calderon's drug war, Monterrey appeared immune to the cartel violence - but not anymore.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News.

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