Mexicans fear turf war after drug kingpin's death

Tue Nov 9, 2010 6:48pm EST
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By Robin Emmott

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - For Mexicans living in the battleground between two of the country's biggest drug gangs, the threat of even worse violence is rising as the Zetas try to grab the turf of the Gulf cartel's dead kingpin.

"We're all very afraid of what's coming," said Julio, a car wash worker in the city of Matamoros, just across the border from Brownsville at the southern tip of Texas. "This was already a war zone and it is only going to get worse."

The killing of Ezequiel "Tony Tormenta" Cardenas, head of the Gulf cartel, by Mexican marines last week was a brief victory in President Felipe Calderon's fight against the gangs warring over smuggling routes into the United States.

Since the death of Cardenas, cartel roadblocks and gunfights have intensified across Matamoros and nearby Reynosa and Monterrey, Mexico's richest city. The Zetas have strung up threatening banners on major roads in the cities.

Antonio Garza, police chief of northeastern Tamaulipas state that is home to Matamoros, warned of a "collective psychosis" since Friday's killing of Cardenas, with many fearful residents staying home and schools being closed.

Hundreds of university students were evacuated on Tuesday in a series of bomb scares in Matamoros, after 10 high schools received similar warnings on Monday.

All turned out to be false and no one was injured but residents have good reason to be scared. Since December 2006, when Calderon launched his crackdown, more than 31,000 people have been killed across Mexico in drug-related violence.

Cardenas -- the brother of former Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas, who was extradited to Texas in 2007 -- was killed in a hail of grenades and gunfire after marines closed in on him in a house in downtown Matamoros.   Continued...

<p>A man walks by a banner hung by suspected hitmen from the Zetas gang at a pedestrian bridge in Monterrey November 6, 2010. Suspected hitmen from the Zetas gang hung messages between trees and over bridges in Reynosa and in cities across northeastern Tamaulipas state, mocking rival Gulf Cartel gang leader Ezequiel "Tony Tormenta" Cardenas' death, who was shot dead by marines on Friday. The banner, mainly in slang, celebrates the death of Cardenas. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo</p>