REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- The federal government has announced a fresh security operation aimed at regaining control over the eastern coastal state of Veracruz, where entrenched criminal organizations and a paramilitary-style gang have unleashed a wave of deadly drug-war violence.
In a formal and subdued setting before a portrait of national hero Benito Juarez, members of Mexico's national security council said Tuesday evening that only the state had the authority to combat criminal groups in the country's ongoing conflict against traffickers.
The statements made an indirect reference to the so-called Mata Zetas, or Zeta Killers, an apparently well-armed and well-trained new gang that surfaced in late July. The Zeta Killers claim their only goal is to rid the country of the violent and feared Zetas cartel. The group has called on Veracruz residents to stop paying extortion "taxes" to the Zetas.
"Those who seek justice by their own hand, or invade the state in its intransferable duties, become delinquents, and the government will apply to them the full force of the law," Interior Secretary Jose Francisco Blake Mora said.
Mexico's federal government in recent days has aggressively sought to dispel the notion that the Zeta Killers are a "true" paramilitary. An increase in such vigilante violence would more closely echo the worst years of Colombia's long armed conflict, where paramilitary violence was rampant.
It's a parallel that both Mexican and U.S. authorities strive to avoid, analysts and reports have said, and there are many differences between the drug war experiences of Mexico and Colombia.
Blake stood at attention alongside top security and military officials, as well as Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte, as the government said it would seek to reinforce local police units in the state and root out corruption in the state police force. Last week, the government said it would be sending more troops and federal police to combat the organized crime groups in Veracruz.
The Zeta Killers' declaration of war against the Zetas has resulted in a statewide outbreak of intense fighting and reports of kidnappings. On Sept. 20, 35 bodies were dumped on a busy boulevard near the Veracruz port, a gruesome act for which the Zeta Killers have claimed responsibility.
The government's new Operation Safe Veracruz appears modeled on previous multi-agency operations that the administration of President Felipe Calderon has undertaken in other regions of the country since he took office in late 2006.
Calderon launched the government's campaign against Mexican drug cartels with a military-led operation in his home state of Michoacan. Enforcement pushes elsewhere have produced mixed results. In Chihuahua state, where violent Ciudad Juarez is located, a military and federal operation corresponded with an increase in claims of human-rights violations by government forces.
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: A Mexican soldier on patrol at a state prosecutors' meeting in the port of Veracruz, Sept. 22, 2011. Credit: Associated Press