The Mexican drug gang known as the Zetas, who stand accused of beating scores of people to death in Tamaulipas and then dumping their bodies in mass graves, are apparently attempting to improve their image by funding parties for local children.
Every April 30, Mexico celebrates “Children’s Day,” which celebrates the importance of children and promotes their well-being. In Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, the mayor’s office had planned to mark the day with a special event at the city’s fairground, featuring carnival rides and a visit from the state’s governor.
Oddly, in the weeks leading up to the event the city’s residents started noticing a series of mysterious banners, all of them advertising another, decidedly more lavish fair than the state-sponsored one. According to El Blog del Narco, the banners promised a fun-filled event complete with raffles and presents, that would be free for all attendees.
Although the origins of the banners were unclear, many reportedly assumed that the event was being planned by the military. However, when anonymous and fake user accounts began to promote the event via social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, doubts about the organizers grew.
These suspicions were confirmed on the day of the fair itself, when a group of men dressed in all black hung a banner on the site which announced that it had been paid for by none other than Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, alias "Z-3," a Zetas leader. The banner, which is pictured below, said the following:
BUYING YOUR CHILDREN EXPENSIVE TOYS AND PROVIDING THEM COMFORT AND LUXURY IS NOT ENOUGH. WHAT MATTERS MOST IS THAT YOU GIVE THEM ALL YOUR ATTENTION, UNDERSTANDING, LOVE AND SUPPORT WHEN THEY NEED IT MOST. WE HOPE YOU HAVE ALL HAD AN UNFORGETTABLE DAY, WHICH TO US IS VERY IMPORTANT.
FROM HERIBERTO LAZCANO LAZCANO
- THE Z COMPANY
According to the Diario de Ciudad Victoria, two other similar functions took place in separate towns in the nearby municipality of Hidalgo. Blog del Narco alleges that these events were also paid for by the Zetas, but there seems to be no concrete evidence to support this.
Still, this would not be the first time that the Zetas have organized a series of such events. As El Universal reported in 2008, when the Zetas were still allied with the Gulf Cartel, the group threw several Children’s Day celebrations in Coahuila complete with banners, ponies, clowns, food and music. The fair was allegedly ordered by one-time Gulf Cartel head Osiel Carlos Guillen while he was still in prison, in an attempt to spark a domestic outcry against his extradition to the United States.
Although it may seem ridiculous for a brutal criminal enterprise to spend money on carnivals, such actions represent an investment for the Zetas. Recently, their public image was seriously damaged by the 279 bodies found in a cluster of mass graves in Tamaulipas state. Mexican police have arrested members of a local Zetas outfit in connection with the murders, and have since announced that many of the victims were bludgeoned to death with sledge hammers.
Because of this, a strong sense of fear pervades the state, and many who were once ambivalent about the drug trafficking organization have likely been convinced to turn against it by the alleged acts of savage violence. By throwing free parties for local families, the Zetas are doubtlessly attempting to divert attention from the graves, and build up some positive press coverage. Ultimately, however, it may take more than a few parties to win back public support for the Zetas in Tamaulipas. As InSight has reported, more than 1,500 people have been killed in drug-related murders in the state since 2006, making it one of the top ten bloodiest parts of Mexico.