Foreign correspondent Tristan Guerrero in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon Mexico explains how the war on drugs has moved into Mexican suburbia.

Editor’s note: This article was written by a contributor whose first language is Spanish. Minor edits were made but the Overture chose to leave it in the contributor’s own words.

Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, also known as “La sultana del Norte”, city of proud men and the second largest city besides Mexico City. Home of proud men and elite society. One of the richest cities in Mexico in which industrial power was synonymous with security and well-being.


Two years ago, one would be proud to live here, but everything went 180 degrees to a city that I can no longer call my own. Suddenly, the cartels start this war without quarrels almost like a guerrilla war, going to levels that sometimes resemble the Aztec sacrifices; decapitated bodies in the highway, policemen being hunted down while doing their jobs and dismembered people found in boxes.

It is sad how “regios” are now used to gunshots; we have reached the point where any sound is easily mistaken. Now the “Barrio Antiguo,” the place where almost all bars are located where a few months ago you couldn’t walk in a good Friday night because of the crowded area now looks empty and only a few keep going without the fear of a gun fight at whatever time of the day.

The impunity of the acts also is something to feel ashamed of. The corruption has reached levels that you cannot trust your security forces; police are now seen with distrust and almost as feared as the cartels. The only hope for the people: the army and navy forces or an opportunity to relocate.

It is incredible how things have changed in a couple of years, how we start losing the control of our lives and be prisoners of the insecurity. Those stories initially were only heard from places like Ciudad Juarez, which still might be the most dangerous place to be, but we are going to the same point of “no return”. The stories spread like legends, everyone has heard someone who knows someone that had an unfortunate encounter with trouble. Violent theft, and by this I don’t meant the normal “give me your wallet, bro” , but the “lets take our AK-47s into that party and steal all cars, cell phones and hit and run anyone who thinks otherwise” type. Until it happens to you, or to someone really close to you, you don’t realize how far beyond the limits this goes.

This war called “La Guerra contra el Narcotrafico” (the war against drugs) started around 2006 when president Felipe Calderon started this full force attack against the most dangerous drug cartels in Mexico. The tricky part here is that these drug cartels are also fighting against each other for control of the main drug routes.

It is hard to really know exactly when everything started to fall apart in Monterrey, but the main conflict we can witness in the streets are between 3 important sides: Cartel del Golfo, Los Zetas and the Mexican Army. There are no allies, just a rain of bullets.

The Zetas have acquired a terrible fame of being one of the deadliest and dangerous Cartels in Mexico. Their trademark is simple: fear. They were originally formed as an ex military mercenary group, mainly Mexican and Guatemalan ex-soldiers hired to do the dirty work for the Cartel del Golfo. This was back in the 90s but in 2010 they decided to bite the hand that feeds and went rogue against their former masters.

This particular group (Zetas) is the one that has strike the most fear in the society because of their practices such as kidnapping, theft, extortion, and the like against civilians. Not that other Cartels don’t do it, but maybe not at such a scale.

In 2010, there was a total of 610 deaths related to this war (civilians, policemen, soldiers and gunmen), in the same year US and the Coalition Military in Afghanistan had around 711 (

For 2011 we have months to go and there been already 611 of causalities just in Nuevo Leon. (



There have been some tragic events that have really shocked the society at the point of gathering protests and peace marches.

For example the gunfight in the University ITESM, my alma mater where I use to hang no more than 3 years ago, two students got killed in the cross fire between the army and gunmen. The whole city was shocked with the news; the symbol of our high education was target of the insecurity.

Months later a gunman trying to execute a prison employee emptied his rifle in a crowded area in the middle of Monterrey City, known as Morelos, killing a university girl around 20 years old and a 54 year old woman.

For those who don’t know, Morelos this is the place where most of the people gather with families, to go shopping or just walking. After this the society gathered to mourn the girl, placing a line of candles in her memory.



Recently was the attack to the Café Iguana. Anyone who has lived in Monterrey for the past 20 years or at least visited it, will know about this place. This was the heart for independent music as well as a place for concerts and a bar to go with your friends on a Saturday night to have a couple of beers.

Now this place is closed, with the mark of bullets in its door, a scar of the attack the suffered on May 21 when supposedly from an SUV two men pulled the trigger of their AK-47s and killed two employees (well known of the Monterrey underworld rock scene) and two still unidentified persons. After this another SUV came back and stole the bodies, no one has ever heard what happened to them.


But now, where do we go? Who’s fault is all this? And how are we going to recover the freedom to leave our home? When did we start to think that would be better to have justice in our hands in the absence of our long lost security forces? It is amazing how most of the people I talk to agree that a death sentence is a good idea to handle this, but how this will work when our legal systems are so deeply corrupt and ineffective?

We had to start creating heroes, like “Don Alejo” a 77 year old businessman who defended his property from gunmen seeking to seize it. With a society submerged in fear it is not rare for situations like this to happen in the ranch areas outside Nuevo Leon or Tamaulipas. Using only hunting rifles, this local hero greeted the gunmen with a rain of bullets, killing four of them before dying.

“If Monterrey is lost, then Mexico is lost,” according to an NBC story.

But we now are fighting a civil war against our own sins and the greed of others, so that we can clean our city’s image from the international media who warn all visitors not to visit Mexico.

The truth is…I am not sure what we can do, but we have lost much by simply living here.
Who will honor those that have died there? All those policemen, soldiers, civilians, politicians, doctors and other innocents. How will the families find justice?

If all of these questions cannot be answered, or worse yet, these questions are not in our minds, then we have already lost the Monterrey that we know and this is no longer a war for a society held hostage, but rather an exodus.