The body of a cartel hit-woman known as “La Flaca,” or “Skinny Girl,” was found dismembered and stuffed into a blue cooler in Matamoros, Mexico, last weekend. A tattoo reading “Niño” on Joselyn Alejandra Niño’s right forearm made it easy to identify the assassin’s sawed-off body parts in the ice chest.
The gruesome fate of La Flaca is just one example of the increased violence in two of Mexico’s northern border cities just minutes away from the United States. The violence is reaching a new “state of anarchy,” according to Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Tex.), who is urging Mexico and the U.S. to step up security and economic aide.
“Over the last two months it’s gotten worse and worse,” Vela told Fox News Latino. Texas’ 34th district encompasses the city of Brownsville and part of McAllen, which are connected by bridges over the Rio Grande to the crime-ridden cities of Matamoros and Reynosa respectively.
Matamoros and Reynosa have been at the heart of a turf war in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas since 2010, when the Gulf Cartel began battling a splinter group that had been its enforcer wing, the notoriously brutal Zetas cartel.
“It’s gotten to the point here, the cities of Matamoros and Reynosa are in a state of anarchy."
- U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX)
While there has been no clear winner, the fighting has significantly weakened the organized crime syndicates, creating in-fighting between smaller factions of the Gulf Cartel this year. Graphic photos of La Flacas’s remains were posted on social media by one faction as a warning to a rival group.
Experts say that the fighting has created smaller, more disorganized gangs that rely less on making money from the drug trade and more on street crimes that target the general public, such as kidnapping and extortion.
“It’s gotten to the point here, the cities of Matamoros and Reynosa are in a state of anarchy,” Vela told Fox News Latino.
The increased violence since February has forced the U.S. consulate in Matamoros to issue travel warnings because of reports of convoys of armed men. The consulate even restricted travel for staff members, allowing them just to go from home to work and back until further notice.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is warning Americans not travel to Tamaulipas unless necessary.
In October, three American siblings were abducted by armed men and murdered execution-style while visiting their father near Matamoros. In November, two well-known cross-border businessmen disappeared and, in February, two American veteran brothers went missing in Matamoros while driving back to the U.S.
“I don’t understand what it is going to take for the administrations in Mexico City and Washington, D.C., to take action to address the violence in Tamaulipas,” Vela said in statement released in February. “More killings? More kidnappings? More missing Americans?”
For its part, the Mexican government, under the leadership of President Enrique Peña Nieto, continues to go after Mexican cartel kingpins. On Friday in Reynosa, authorities captured a leader of the Gulf Cartel, but not before widespread gunfights, explosions left dozens dead and injured and burned vehicles lining the streets.
On the same day, authorities captured the leader of the Juarez Cartel.
Congressman Vela believes that the strategy of targeting kingpins has had a “positive effect” disrupting large criminal organizations, it has also helped create the smaller gangs that are going after the public at large.
He is calling on the Mexican government to increase the number of federal law enforcement personnel in the two border cities, while committing significant resources to social development.
“I believe that in order to address the systemic violence that now plagues Reynosa and Matamoros, our two nations should draw lessons from history by repeating Mexico's largely successful efforts to bring peace to Ciudad Juárez after 2010,” Vela told FNL.
Juárez, in 2010 considered the murder capital of the world, is now on the path to recovery thanks in large part to more than $380 million pumped into the city during the previous administration under President Felipe Calderón.
The money helped finance federal troops in the city as well as social programs to help renovate community centers, schools, and hospitals, according to a report by the International Crisis Group, a non-profit.
"Mexico should expand the public-private efforts that helped bring Ciudad Juárez back from the brink and reach out more to marginalized communities to help combat and prevent violent crime,” Mary Speck, project director for Mexico and Central America at ICG, said in the report. “Opaque, top-down solutions that fail to address local concerns cannot neutralize the explosive mix of organized crime and corruption."
Still, it’s unlikely that Mexico will have the kind of resources needed to expend “Ciudad Juarez” type of money or federal forces to Reynosa and Matamoros.
Instead, experts tell Fox News Latino, the government must work to reform the local police forces whose corrupt ways help create the environment needed for cartels to restructure themselves and survive despite the increased captures of cartel kingpins.
“The main reason for the resurgence of the violence is that the corruption links between Zeta and Gulf cartels have not been broken,” Jorge Chabat, a professor and security analyst at the Center for Research and Teaching in Mexico City, told FNL by telephone. “In the world of organized crime, on the one hand there are the criminals and on the other you have the corrupt authorities. If you don’t attack the other side, you won’t solve the problem.”
In the U.S., the Texas Senate approved an $800-million sweeping border security bill on Monday, boosting the powers and resources available to local law enforcement along the border.
But that may not be enough, Vela says. The ultimate solution for a more secure border, he believes, involves helping stop the violence in the Mexican cities right across the border.
“We can’t look at border security in such a myopic viewpoint,” he told FNL. “These communities are so connected.”
He added, “Our border culture has essentially been decimated because of the violence in Mexico. It’s really that simple.”