By Ignacio Alvarado Álvarez / Al Jazeera
Mexico’s northern border area is full of semidesert lands with small cities, towns and ranches dedicated to livestock and forage crops. Under this inhospitable surface lies the world’s fourth-largest reserves of shale gas and 95 percent of Mexico’s coal.
The cycle of great violence began here — as in the nearby states of Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and Veracruz — in 2009. From 2005 to 2009, there were 788 homicides in the state. In 2010 and 2011, Coahuila reported 1,067 homicides.
The prevailing explanation for the violence is that the ruthless Zetas cartel established control of the area while overwhelmed authorities did little to oppose them. But growing analysis links the violence to a corrupt group of government officials in whose jurisdiction lie millions of pesos in hydrocarbons.
“Energy Reform and Security in Northeastern Mexico,” a report published by the Mexico Center at Rice University, places the regional violence in the context of powerful economic interests. It is not the government’s version, that of a war among cartels for routes to the U.S., nor is it the concept of la plaza, or territorial control by criminal organizations. Rather, the struggle is for control of the more than 70,000 square miles of the Burgos Basin and its enormous gas reserves.
“[In Coahuila] we have become aware of a new criminal system that involves organized crime working together in a systemic way with federal, state and municipal authorities and law enforcement,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor and the director of the department of government at the University of Texas at Brownsville.