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U.S. Citizen Stabbed to Death In Mexican Drug Trading City

By Ginger Thompson
THE NEW YORK TIMES


MEXICO CITY

A man identified as an American citizen was found stabbed to death on Sunday in Nuevo Laredo, a city of 300,000 along Mexico’s border with the United States that has become the principal battlefield for Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations.

The Mexican authorities said Joe Cantu, 47, of San Antonio, had been found dead with more than 13 stab wounds.

The authorities said they had not determined the motive for the killing. But one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose information related to the case, said it appeared that the killing might have involved a drug-related dispute.

The killing followed the assassinations last week of four federal police officers and the killing two weeks ago of the chief of the state police unit in Nuevo Laredo and of the director of the city’s emergency response system.

Diplomats and law enforcement officials on both sides of the border said the attacks were linked to the fight for control of the lucrative drug trafficking routes that run through Nuevo Laredo into Texas. They said the recent wave of violence proved that a crackdown against drug traffickers that was started last year by President Vicente Fox had failed to end the lawlessness there.

“The police continue to serve criminal organizations,” said a human rights advocate, Arturo Solis. “And until that changes, the violence will continue.”

Last June, after the killing of the local police chief seven hours after he was sworn into office, Fox sent hundreds of federal agents to take control of law enforcement in Nuevo Laredo. He ordered all local police officers removed from duty pending the results of drug and lie detector tests. More than half of the force failed the tests and were dismissed.

The governor of Tamaulipas state, Eugenio Hernandez, provided new equipment for the beleaguered department, including uniforms, cars and a communication system.

A diplomat in Nuevo Laredo, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case publicly, said the killing of the coordinator of the emergency response system, Ramiro Tellez Contreras, was in retaliation for installing a new police communications system.

Drug traffickers had gained access to police radio frequencies and used them, the authorities said, to issue threats or orders.

But Solis contended that the municipal police force continued to serve drug traffickers. He said that when the government pushed against the traffickers, the traffickers pushed back.

Earlier this year, the diplomat said, the city’s emergency response system was disrupted when a man stole a bulldozer from a city crew at work near the police communications center and toppled the main antenna. Mexico’s interior minister, Carlos Abascal, and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff signed an agreement early this year to improve cooperation among federal law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border. Last week, Fox sent 800 more federal officers to Nuevo Laredo. Two days later, four of those officers were shot dead on a busy street in daylight.

Ruben Aguilar, the chief spokesman for Fox, said the four officers had detected a safe house that was being used by the notorious Gulf Cartel, which has long controlled drug trafficking in Nuevo Laredo.