Two Months After the Mexico Casino Attack, Fear and Violence Persist

Two and a half minutes was all it took to change Mexico's War on Drugs and the life of Samara Pérez Muñiz forever.

The 38 year-old secretary entered Monterrey's Casino Royale to play the slot machines on a Thursday afternoon with her 18-year-old son, Brad Xavier. Minutes later, eight gunmen from the notorious Zeta drug cartel entered and began pouring gasoline on the carpets and tables.

"The gunmen said, 'You're all dead,'" Pérez Muñiz recalled. "Everyone started to run. We all began yelling. I went to look for my son but I couldn't find him."

The fire killed 52 civilians, most of them women and senior citizens playing Bingo. Some exit doors were either locked or blocked. Most died from smoke inhalation.

The worst slaughter of civilians by a drug cartel in Mexican history underscored how the cartels are moving beyond just drugs and into the extortion of businesses. In the investigation that followed, a policeman and the brother of the mayor of Monterrey were implicated in the attack.

"There was official police and political complicity in what turned out to be a major disaster with national and international repercussions. Its implications are that Mexico is rife with corruption at the state and local level," said Professor Bruce Bagley of the University of Miami. "The corruption is beyond the pale. In every major city in Mexico you have a symbiotic relationship between organized crime, often violent, the local police establishment and the local political establishment."

The violence did not end with the casino fire. After the suspected policeman was captured and began to name accomplices, three members of his family were murdered.

With the fire blazing in the background, one young man agreed to give an interview about what was happening, but only with his back turned to the camera.

While most here fear talking about the cartels, Pérez Muñiz says she is not afraid.

"I lost my fear when I lost my son in that casino," she said. "Half of me was killed. I am not afraid of showing my face.

"I want Mexico to change," she continued. "I want international authorities to intercede here so that this country can return to what it used to be."

In five years of aggressive action against the cartels by the Calderón government, more than 43,000 people have been killed. Weariness of the carnage could cause a change in policy when Mexicans go to the polls to elect a new president next year.

Steve Harrigan is a Fox News Correspondent based in Miami, FL.

Fox News' Serafin Gomez contributed to this report.

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