Feb. 22, 2010, was the day everything changed for the people of Mier.
An eight-page internal report written by a Mier city official on Nov. 7 — two days after Tony Tormenta’s death — chronicles the town’s demise, which began that late winter night.
Widespread firefights were heard about 8 p.m. that day. And before dawn the next day, suspected drug cartel members traveling in some 40 trucks overtook Mier’s City Hall, kidnapped the city’s police force and took their weapons.
More kidnappings were reported in the city and about 10 houses were burned, the report states.
Without police control, local government ceased to conduct its daily activities. A shootout between Mexican army soldiers and cartel gunmen ensued in front of a school on the city’s south side, “provoking chaos” and leaving casualties on both sides.
Since Feb. 22, the report states, school classes have been suspended in the city. Widespread and erratic shootouts pushed scared parents to keep their children home.
“Educational authorities took the decision to not have students in class until further notice,” the report states.
More than 50 percent of the town’s 6,500 residents fled after the cartel violence ensued. In recent weeks, the number of people displaced has climbed. Those who have fled estimate only a few hundred people remain in Mier.
Adds the Wall Street Journal:
Ciudad Mier began to collapse. After an attack on the water-treatment facility this year, the town had no drinkable water as workers were too frightened to begin repairs, residents say. For a week this fall, parts of the city had no water at all. Electrical outages became frequent after attacks on transformers. Finding gas became impossible when the city’s one gas station was shot up. Residents say they headed to neighboring Miguel Alemán to fill up their cars.
While schools remained in session, parents often refused to send their children, deeming it unsafe. “Every child I taught was thinking: ‘I’m next to be killed,'” says a town teacher, who recalled that a theater class he taught suddenly sank from 20 students to just four.
Medical services were scant. “The pharmacies were closing down or weren’t open,” recalls an 87-year-old man who fled the town last week. Manuel Alejandro Peña, a general practitioner who heads a branch of the state’s health office in the village, recalled that he was unable to get penicillin for two months this summer when drivers couldn’t safely make the journey from the city of Nuevo Laredo, fearing they’d be attacked on the highway.
“We watched our medicine reserves begin to vanish,” Dr. Peña recalled.
By last week, the city was ravaged again. Emboldened by the death of Mr. Cárdenas Guillén, the Gulf Cartel leader known as Tony Tormenta, Zetas staged a counterattack, townspeople say. Signs leading into the town were pocked with hundreds of bullet holes, along with nearly every major building in town.
Except for a few holdouts, nearly all the former residents have fled. Some moved in with family members elsewhere in Mexico or the U.S. About 300 refugees now bunk on cots at a local Lion’s Club in nearby Miguel Alemán, a larger city down the road which is thought to be less violent. On a recent day, an older deaf woman sat in a wheelchair by herself as a dozen children watched morning cartoons.
The Wall Street Journal piece is really a solid bit of reporting and should be read in whole. The entire state of Tamaulipas is being torn apart by the cartel wars, and the article captures this well. As the WSJ notes, the Mexican army has now garrisoned Ciudad Mier in an effort to root out the cartels. This is bitter comfort to Ciudad Mier’s refugees; the army ignored their pleas for help for months, only moving into Ciudad Muir and neighboring Nuevo Laredo once the city’s refugee migration became an international news story. How many other Ciudad Muirs, isolated, terrorized, and ignored by the broader world, can be found on the border? We – along with the Mexican army – ignore these budding ghost towns at our own peril.