Rains and mudslides created by a tropical depression swept into the region last week, killing 81 people from Nicaragua to southeastern Mexico. “The situation has got even worse, it’s still raining heavily in various parts of the country,” Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes said. El Salvador bore the brunt of the damage: 32 people died and more than 20,000 people were evacuated. Neighboring Guatemala was also hit hard where at least 28 people died. A blackout in Guatemala City forced hundreds to shelter in shopping malls and contributed to an “atmosphere of chaos.” Evacuations were reported as far south as Costa Rica.
Related, Category Two Hurricane Jova made landfall off Mexico’s southwestern coast early last week. Six people were killed as the storm threatened to disrupt the Friday opening of the Pan American Games in Guadalajara. The games kicked off without major problems, however, with much attention paid to the heavy security presence.
The capture of Zetas third-in-command Carlos “La Rana” Oliva Castillo (or “The Frog”) lead headines of an already busy week in Mexico. Castillo was seized Wednesday by the Mexican army at a safehouse in Saltillo, southwest of the Monterrey metropolitan area. Zetas gunmen reportedly attacked army troops in the city following Castillo’s capture in an unsuccessful attempt to free him — “a sign of his importance to the criminal organization,” the AP paraphrased Mexican army spokesperson Col. Ricardo Trevilla. Castillo is accused of ordering an arson attack in August on a Monterrey casino that killed 52 people.
In northern Nuevo Leon state, Mexican security forces seized a Zetas cell believed to coordinate the cartel’s operations in several cities there. The military also rescued 61 men held as forced laborers by the Zetas in the border city of Piedras Negras. Elsewhere, a prison riot in Matamoros between rival gangs left at least 20 inmates dead. In other news, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo revealed the Zetas had received “training in command and intelligence operations” from veterans of Colombia’s special forces. The men — two majors and two non-commissioned officers — are said to have gone into the freelance business after being released from a military prison in 2005.
Also, outgoing Mexican President Felipe Calderon defended his government’s security strategy in Saturday’s New York Times, accused his rivals in the Institutional Revolutionary Party of corruption, and said his legacy will not be one of surging violence. “It’s possible some will remember me for that or will want me to be remembered for that,” Calderon said. “But if Mexico triumphs as I am sure it will, if Mexico has new institutions in the future, if Mexico subdues the criminals, if Mexico reconstructs its social fabric there will also be those that remember me as the president who dared to take on the criminals and indicate the long path of institutional reconstruction of the country.”