Northern Mexico fears return to dark past after gunfights

VILLA UNION, Mexico (AP) – Mexico’s president said he wants to fight drug cartels with “hugs, not bullets,” but after 23 people were killed in a weekend gunbattle in the border state of Coahuila, some communities want a more forceful strategy to prevent cartel assailants from reimposing a reign of terror.

Residents of the small town of Villa Union said on Tuesday that they fear a return to the days of 2010-2013, when the old Zetas cartel killed, burned and abducted Coahuila citizens. This past weekend, the Cartel del Noreste – an offshoot of the Zetas – invaded Villa Union to try to reassert a claim to the turf.

Villa Union is 12 miles from the town of Allende, the site of a 2011 massacre in which the Zetas killed at least 70 people.

Residents said they have learned from experience that the Zetas must be fought.

“You can’t give a drug trafficker a hug and not expect to receive a bullet in return,” said a former policeman in Allende who would not give his name for fear of reprisals. “That is the only way to fight them off, to prevent them from returning to our towns and ruling them, is with bullets.”

The ex-policeman and his family had to flee Allende for a while in 2011 in the face of Zeta threats. He doesn’t want to have to flee again.

A coffin containing the remains of a firefighter is transported on a fire truck as family and friends follow in a funeral procession, in Villa Union, Mexico. PHOTO: AP