MEXICO CITY – MEXICO CITY (AP) — Some areas of Mexico along the U.S. border have been paralyzed economically by drug violence, and the governor of the border state of Tamaulipas said Thursday the federal government should send relief funds.
Violence has affected tourism, commerce and investment, Gov. Eugenio Hernandez said during an anti-crime strategy meeting between Mexican state governors and President Felipe Calderon.
"It is necessary to send additional funds to reactivate the economy in the affected zones," Hernandez said. "The climate of lack of safety has reduced the flow of foreign investment, and it is urgent that a promotional campaign be designed to improve the country's image."
Hernandez did not specify which areas were paralyzed, but people in Tamaulipas cities such as Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros on the border with Texas say bloody turf battles between drug gangs have caused a falloff in business. Much of the region's employment comes from foreign-owned border assembly plants.
Speaking on the other side of the border, U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual agreed.
"Cartel-driven violence has moved southward to Mexico's business capital, Monterrey, forming a 'northeastern triangle' of violence among Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey," Pascual said Thursday, according to a prepared text of his remarks in the border city of El Paso, Texas.
"The security environment in Monterrey has turned, in just months, from seeming benevolence to extreme violence," he said of Mexico's third-largest city and major industrial hub.
Hernandez suggested Mexico's federal government send soldiers and federal police to beef up border customs checkpoints to stop the flow of weapons from the United States.
He also urged Calderon's government to transfer high-risk federal prisoners out of state prisons, saying that "we don't have the conditions" to hold them.
Calderon has been meeting with opposition parties, academics and civic groups as part of an unprecedented series of talks about his offensive against drug cartels — which has been criticized as making the country even less secure. More than 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence since Calderon launched the offensive in late 2006, sending thousands of troops to drug hot spots.
Calderon has used the forum to open the door to news ways of combatting organized crimes, including stricter measures against money laundering and possibly the first-ever restrictions on cash transactions. He also said last week he would consider a debate on legalization of drugs, though he personally opposes the idea.
He and many of the governors representing Mexico's 31 states agreed that more educational and job opportunities are needed for Mexican youth.
Youths "are probably the fertile ground from which the criminal organizations are drawing their strength," Calderon said.
"They recruit them and they send them out to the front, literally, to die," he added.
Calderon and many of the governors at the Mexico City meeting also stressed that the public needs to help by giving information to police.
A major complaint of soldiers and federal police dispatched to hot spots to combat drug gangs has been that local people are too scared, too involved or too distrustful of authorities to share information.
Nearly three-quarters of Mexicans have little or no confidence in politicians and political parties, and almost as many say the same of police, according to a poll released Thursday. However, about six of every 10 express some or a lot of confidence in Mexico's armed forces.
The poll of 1,200 people nationwide sponsored by Mexican civic groups had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
"We have to build what some of you have talked about, which is citizen intelligence, a network of citizen and civic information that can help to combat organized crime," Calderon told the gathering, though he didn't specify how.
Later Thursday, federal police announced they arrested five suspects in last month's kidnappings of four journalists in northern Mexico. Luis Cardenas Palomino, regional security chief for the federal police, said the four men and one woman are members of the Sinaloa drug cartel.
The suspects were detained in Durango state, where the journalists were grabbed to pressure the television networks they work for to air video clips of men who identified themselves as police and described how they cooperated with a drug gang that is a rival of the Sinaloa cartel. Fearing for the safety of the journalists, the stations did so briefly.
Two of the journalists were freed by their captors, and federal police rescued the other two five days after they were kidnapped.
Also in Durango, troops clashed with gunmen Thursday, killing 12, the Defense Department said.
The department said soldiers were checking on a complaint about armed men at a ranch in the town of Santiago Papasquiaro when they were attacked. Three soldiers were wounded.