REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's government this week sought to deny that a paramilitary-style group calling itself the Zeta Killers was operating in eastern coastal Mexico, where an increase in narco-related violence has turned the port of Veracruz into a new flashpoint in the drug war.
President Felipe Calderon's national security spokeswoman told reporters Thursday that the Mata Zetas are just another criminal group seeking to conquer an enemy group's territory -- in this case, the Zetas and its relatively firm hold on Mexico's east coast.
The Zeta Killers have posted videos online presenting themselves as if in a news conference, and they appear to have police or military training.
"The phenomenon in Veracruz is a result of a rivalry between two criminal groups," spokeswoman Alejandra Sota said (link in Spanish), responding to several questions about the presence of paramilitaries in Mexico. "Therefore, they must be taken on."
The Zeta Killers, also identified as a sub-group of the New Generation cartel based in the state of Jalisco, posted its first video in late July. In intimidating military gear and masks, the group announced its intent to rid the country of the Zetas cartel once and for all.
Since then violence has ignited across the state. Meanwhile, intense violence is said to not be reported by news media in the border state of Tamaulipas. Attacks on journalists in Veracruz have also increased, in addition to a legal and political struggle over the use of social media to report on the battles.
Sota also said the Calderon administration would be sending troops and federal police to Veracruz to combat the armed groups fighting there.
On Sept. 20, 35 bodies were dumped on a busy main street in Veracruz. The top state prosecutor, Reynaldo Escobar, quickly said that all of the dead had criminal records, and it was widely assumed that they were affiliated with the Zetas.
But on Friday, the Veracruz newspaper Notiver reported that most of the victims did not have records (link in Spanish). Notiver said 28 of the 35 bodies had been identified. Most of the victims are males between the ages of 15 and 30, but there were women too, and two girls ages 15 and 16, as well as a popular transvestite well-known in celebrity circles.
The government's rush to judgment, along with other bungled cases, led to persistent but unconfirmed reports Friday that Escobar would be forced to resign.
-- Daniel Hernandez and Cecilia Sanchez
Photo: The Zeta Killers present themselves to Veracruz residents in a video posted online in late July. Credit: guerradelnarco.com