Border Governor on PR Offensive

In the United States, it is unusual for a state government to take to the national airwaves and pitch its perceived accomplishments in costly spots. But in Mexico, as power diffuses from the federal to the state level, it is becoming more common for state governments to aim for national audiences in publicizing their purported achievements.

Take, for example, the heavy barrage of official and semi-official publicity that saturated Mexican television when Enrique Pena Nieto, the expected 2012 presidential candidate for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), was governor of the state of Mexico, the country’s most populous state and its biggest basket of votes.

Now another PRI governor, Egidio Torre Cantu of the state of Tamaulipas, is fast becoming a familiar face on Mexican television. Torre’s spots tout his administration’s first annual report on the state of affairs in an important but troubled state bordering the United States.

On a broader level, the spots give a positive image to a PRI administration precisely at the moment when the presidential campaign is getting underway and the PRI stands a better-than-good chance of retaking the Mexican White House.

In fact, in a speech detailing his first year as governor, Torre Cantu praised Pena Nieto as a “great hope for Mexico.”

In his report delivered in the state capital of Ciudad Victoria last week, Torre Cantu declared significant progress on the security, economic, tourism and migration fronts. According to Torre Cantu, cooperation among federal, state and municipal governments is making Tamaulipas a more secure place.

Last year, Tamaulipas was in the international spotlight because of the outbreak of a bloody conflict between the Gulf and Zetas underworld organizations. While accurate information was hard to obtain due to the effective silencing of the local press, reports suggested that killings easily ran in the hundreds if not more.

Many people, especially residents of the so-called “Little Border” between Reynosa and Matamoros, fled the violence for safe havens in Texas or other parts of Mexico. Tamaulipas was the site of the August 2010 massacre of 72 mainly Central American migrants, and the subsequent scene of the discovery of scores of other victims, this time principally Mexican, who were found buried in so-called narco-graves.

To counter insecurity, Torre Cantu underscored the construction of three new military garrisons by March 2012, as well as the participation of 2,790 soldiers in carrying out law enforcement functions in 22 of the state’s 43 municipalities. Local governments are paying the tab for the soldiers’ presence, the border governor said. In addition, the state government is financing the expansion of a military base in Matamoros and the construction of outposts in two smaller municipalities, he added.

Prior to Torre Cantu’s report, State Public Safety Secretary Rafael Lomeli Martinez

said some soldiers were expected to stay on as police officers and help fill a personnel shortage. At least 12 municipalities do not have a local police force, Lomeli said, because the officers have either resigned or were sacked for failing security tests.

In the economic realm, Torre Cantu cited a road improvement program valued at approximately $150 million, plans to support farmers devastated by drought and  investments of nearly $1.5 billion within the past year.

Foreign companies plowing new money into Tamaulipas include DuPont, Delphi, Home Depot and the HEB supermarket chain, among others. In 2010, the federal Economy Ministry reported foreign investments in Tamaulipas well below the billion dollar mark for the year.

Torre Cantu also addressed the migrant issue, stressing that church-supported migrant shelters in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros assisted 3,000 repatriated minors during the past year. Stepping up to the plate, the state government has opened the Tamaulipas Migrant Institute to help deported or repatriated migrants, he said.

In November, Tamaulipas was on the route of a caravan of 33 Central American mothers who traveled across Mexico in search of missing relatives who set off for the US but seemingly dropped off the face of the earth.

In a statement, the Mesoamerican Migrant Movement, which supported the caravan, thanked Tamaulipas’ new migrant office for opening its doors and offering to help in determining the fates of disappeared migrants. Many of the missing persons are suspected to be victims of human traffickers and other organized criminal bands that operate in Tamaulipas and other states.

But the statement cautioned that information gathered during the caravan confirmed that  crimes against migrants and threats against their supporters continue.

“It all indicates to us that kidnappings, disappearances, murders, maltreatment and extortion continue,” the migrant advocacy group said.

Torre Cantu was elected governor in 2010 after his brother, Rodolfo Torre Cantu, was assassinated while running for the same office. Given Tamaulipas’ status as a PRI stronghold, it was almost a certainty Rodolfo Torre Cantu would have been the next governor.

A civil engineer by profession, Egidio Torre Cantu has owned a construction company and served in different government posts. He was briefly the mayor of Ciudad Victoria from 2000 to 2001.

Torres’ view on an improved security situation is supported by the Calderon and Obama administrations. Mexican Navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara recently said that military operations have “greatly weakened” both the rival Zetas and Gulf cartels. Vergara pointed to the arrests of crime family bosses, confiscations of drugs and weapons and the seizure of armored, so-called “monster trucks” that recall the war wagon of Hollywood cinema.

In late November the Mexican navy arrested Ezequiel Cardenas Rivera, the 23-year-old son of the late Antonio Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta,” who was the reputed Gulf cartel capo killed by Mexican marines in 2010.

In attendance for Torre Cantu’s report, the US counsel general in Matamoros, Michael Barkin, offered an upbeat assessment of the security panorama.

“Security has improved with the arrival of the military to the streets of the principal cities of the state…” Barkin was quoted in the Mexican press.  “We are supporting the governor’s strategy. This strategy is important and essential to confront (organized crime)  and that’s why we are supporting the federal, state and municipal governments.”

While Torre Cantu and his allies claim advances in the security situation, violent incidents still continue to shatter Tamaulipas with regularity. On the same day Tamaulipas’ governor delivered his report in Ciudad Victoria, four explosions suspected  of being from grenades shook different parts of the city.

Additional sources: Juarez-El Paso Now, December 2011. Informador.com.mx, November 29, 2011. El Universal/Notimex, November 27, 2011. La Jornada, October 11, 2011;  November 9, 11 and 28, 2011.Articles by Blanche Petrich, Jesus Aranda,  Martin Sanchez Trevino and editorial staff.

 


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