“Sol Prendido” for Borderland Beat
Organized crime fights for control of the Poza Rica, Papantla and Tihuatlán region in Veracruz.
In five months of 2023, the violence that has taken root in the municipalities of the northern region of the state of Veracruz in the last decade has intensified with massacres and homicides that forced the authorities of the government of Veracruz not only to recognize the presence of criminal groups, but also to clarify these acts as a dispute between organized crime cartels.
The most recent incident occurred in the early hours of Friday, May 19, when armed men entered a bar in the municipality of Papantla and shot at those present. As a result, three people were killed and three seriously wounded.
The attack was recorded and broadcast on video by the gunmen themselves, who showed how they gave the coup de grâce to the bodies left on the scene, while attributing the attack to a group called “Gente Nueva”.
Governor Cuitláhuac García Jiménez attributed it to a settling of scores between organized crime groups. Last Friday, after the meeting of the Coordination Table for Peace, he informed that the presence of state and federal public security elements was being reinforced in the region between Papantla and Poza Rica.
By Monday, the president reported that eight people involved in four different violent events in the region had been arrested, one of them linked to the attack in the bar.
In addition, there are indications that they were involved in homicides registered in the last month in the region of Poza Rica, as well as other crimes such as carrying a weapon and kidnapping.
“They have internal conflicts and are making adjustments, unfortunately they are taking lives (…) we have arrested 8 people for two events, 4 in different events, they were placed at the disposal of the Public Prosecutor’s Office”.
However, the attack that occurred in the Pueblo Mágico last Friday is an event that is similar to others that have occurred since January to date in the northern region of the state of Veracruz, which added to violent acts sow fear among civil society.
Between January and May 2023 there were at least nine violent incidents related to disputes between organized crime groups in the northern region of the state of Veracruz, in which a total of 37 people were killed.
The first attack that had an impact in terms of the number of victims occurred on January 1. In the first hours of 2023, eight people were killed in three separate attacks in bars in the municipalities of Poza Rica and Tihuatlán.
Within minutes of each other, the first occurred at the Molino Rojo bar in the Manuel Ávila Camacho neighborhood in Poza Rica, where four people were gunned down. The second attack was at El Maguito, a bar in the Vicente Herrera neighborhood in the same municipality, where three people were killed; and finally, at the El Cafre bar in Tihuatlán, gunmen killed one person.
In a video showing armed and hooded men, the attack is attributed to a group calling itself “Grupo Escorpión”, which, according to the data platform Lantia Intelligence, is linked to the Gulf Cartel.
On January 5, Governor Cuitláhuac García, together with the State Attorney General, Verónica Hernández Giadáns, informed that seven people involved in the events had been arrested. He specified that the eight homicides were not a massacre, but attacks on clear targets as a settling of scores between organized crime groups.
The intensified dispute in the northern zone reached the Veracruz-Boca del Río metropolitan area a few days later, where a family was gunned down while traveling on the Veracruz-Xalapa highway, in the section of the Las Bajadas naval air base.
Two minors, two women, a teacher and Fernando Pérez Vega, alias “El Pino”, a politician who had participated in a meeting of the Fuerza Por México party and who was identified by the government of Veracruz as one of its priority targets because he was recognized as an instigator of violence in the region between Poza Rica and Tihuatlán, were killed in this attack.
El Pino, also identified by the alias “R-Q5” and an alleged member of the “Los Pelones” criminal group, was the target of the attack. Days before the attack in which he was killed with his family, he was linked to multiple homicides that occurred on January 1, 2023 in various bars in Poza Rica and Tihuatlán.
The violence did not stop with these events and grew in the following months. On April 11, in the municipality of Tihuatlán there was another violent day that ended with the murder of six people.
The first event occurred in the community of Acontitla, where three women and a man, all members of the same family, were shot to death.
That same day, the bodies of two dismembered men were abandoned in the streets of the same municipality.
Almost two weeks later, on April 26, also in Tihuatlán, six people were shot to death in the bar “La Rommy”, among them a woman.
On May 6, in the Pueblo Mágico of Papantla, human remains belonging to two people were dumped in different parts of the town, one of them identified as Andrea Aidé N, daughter of a member of the Municipal Police and mother of a minor.
On May 9, on the Central Oriente Boulevard in Poza Rica, near the Petróleos Mexicanos (Pemex) inspection station, two bodies were abandoned in black plastic bags, with placards inscribed with messages from the group that claimed responsibility for the crimes. That same day, the municipal police headquarters was attacked with grenades.
On May 10, also in Poza Rica, a man was shot while at his home in the Arroyo del Maíz neighborhood; according to witnesses, armed men came to his house and shot him at point blank range.
On May 11, on the border between the municipalities of Coatzintla and Papantla, an armed criminal cell gunned down a family traveling in a pickup truck. The attack ended in the town of Ojital Viejo and left the driver of the vehicle dead.
On May 14, in the municipality of Poza Rica, human remains were found in two coolers in a mechanic’s shop in the Chapultepec neighborhood. The discovery was made possible by an anonymous call.
As part of these events, five members of the Municipal Police were arrested, allegedly linked to the crime.
The most recent incident occurred on Friday, May 19, when three people were murdered and three were seriously wounded in the bar “Los Indios”.
The attack was recorded by the assassins themselves, who took it upon themselves to disseminate the video on social networks. “Papantla already has an owner, we are the absolute Gente Nueva”, is heard in the recording while the bodies are shot with the coup de grace.
Governor Cuitláhuac García Jiménez attributed the attack again to an adjustment between organized crime groups, which are disputing territory in the northern part of the state.
According to ministerial sources, the victims who were killed in this attack were identified as Jenny N, bar manager; Jesús N, a customer; and Carlos N., a candy vendor.
Groups dispute territory
In a report by the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) leaked in the series of documents from the Guacayas Leaks cyberattack, it was revealed that in the northern part of the state of Veracruz there is a dispute over territory between organized crime groups.
The CJNG is the criminal group with the largest presence in the state of Veracruz, but it is in confrontation with a larger number of rivals in the north of the state.
Separate reports by the civilian group specializing in the analysis of armed conflicts around the world, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project and the United States Congress (Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations) coincide with the Sedena on the CJNG’s dominance in the central and southern portions of the state of Veracruz, but in both cases show a dispute for control of territory in the northern region.
Unlike the conflicts faced by this group in the rest of the state, in the strip between Papantla and Poza Rica the dispute for territory includes the Cartel del Pacífico, Los Zeta Vieja Escuela, Fuerza Especial Grupo Sombra and Los Pelones.
In 2022, Lantia Intelligence, a data platform on violence, organized crime and social conflict in Mexico, identified Grupo Sombra as a cell that emerged from the fragmentation of the Gulf Cartel and took root in the north of Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Oaxaca.
Los Pelones, meanwhile, is identified as a group formed by the Sinaloa Cartel that works with the Gulf Cartel. Lantia Intelligence describes the “Gente Nueva” group as a cell of the Sinaloa Cartel.
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