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Veracruz, Mexico: 11 Bodies Found In Port City

E. EDUARDO CASTILLO   09/23/11 10:12 PM ET   AP

VERACRUZ, Mexico — Despite intense security for a national meeting of Mexico's state prosecutors and tough talk from top cops, criminals dumped more bodies in Veracruz three days after gunmen left 35 corpses on a major avenue during rush hour.

A navy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Friday that police found 11 bodies around town Thursday, even as this Gulf of Mexico port city ramped up security for the prosecutors meeting by deploying hundreds of soldiers, sailors and police on the streets.

It was unclear who left the most recent group of bodies. Officials believe the New Generation gang was behind the dumping of 35 bodies Tuesday on a busy street just a half-mile (kilometer) from the convention hall as a grim message to the Zetas drug cartel, which dominates the region.

Authorities had established a security perimeter around the metropolitan area, with soldiers in trucks stopping people in town they considered suspicious. The prosecutors meeting was Thursday and Friday.

Residents in Veracruz said this week's horrors had only deepened the fear scaring visitors away from the tourist destination and keeping some residents at home at night.

In August, panicked parents rushed to fetch their children from Veracruz schools after a couple posted Twitter messages warning of nonexistent drug cartel attacks on banks and schools.

"Each time, it's worse, and I don't know if it's going to get better," said a 19-year-old student, who like other people interviewed in Veracruz refused to let their names be used for fear of reprisals.

Another man said he felt crime in town had worsened over the past four months.

"Terrifying, terrifying," he said, reacting to Tuesday's find.

"It's among themselves that they're fighting," the man said of drug gangs. "I don't know if they're the Zetas or the Y's or the X's."

The New Generation gang is believed to be linked to Mexico's most-wanted drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who heads the Sinaloa cartel, according to a U.S. law enforcement official, who spoke earlier in the week on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Mexican federal Attorney General Marisela Morales said drug dealing was a factor in the mass killing in Veracruz. The port is the biggest city in Veracruz state, which is a main transit route for cocaine and migrants coming from the Guatemalan border.

According to Veracruz state prosecutors, the majority of the 35 victims identified had police records that included kidnappings, extortion, murder and drug dealing. Authorities have not released their identities, but have said one victim was a local police officer who had gone missing.

The 35 bound, seminude and tortured bodies were dumped beneath an overpass during rush hour Tuesday as gunmen waved weapons at horrified motorists.

"It's no surprise to anybody that the criminal gangs are fighting to control turf and dominate drug dealers," Morales said.

A Veracruz restaurant owner, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Mexico's security situation isn't improving because most state governments aren't coordinating with President Felipe Calderon and federal authorities in the crackdown on drug cartels. He said his restaurant has seen business drop by 35 percent in just the past month in large part because of the violence.

"There is no leadership," the restaurant owner said. "It's the president alone."

Although a navy official reported the finding of 11 more bodies, Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte denied Friday that any other corpses had turned up.

"There is nothing confirmed and they are only rumors," Duarte told reporters.

Late Thursday, state police officers beat up three photojournalists who were outside a morgue and demanded they erase all the photos they had taken.

Duarte said it was illegal to take pictures there but that he would ask prosecutors to organize a visit by the media.

Despite the violence, some tourists went ahead with travel plans to Veracruz. On Thursday, dozens were strolling along the city's oceanfront, and buses brought other visitors to the seaside strip.

"You can't ignore the reality, but you can't stop what you have to do," said Gerardo Galvez, a Mexico City resident visiting the city with his wife. "We can't lock ourselves up. You have to continue with life."

More than 35,000 people have been killed in drug war-related violence around Mexico since Calderon launched his offensive in late 2006, according to government figures. Some groups say more than 40,000 have died.

In the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, gunmen killed a nephew of the Juarez drug cartel's purported leader, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, authorities said.

Vicente Castillo Carrillo, 18, was driving on a dirt road Thursday night in the town of Navolato when assailants opened fire, killing him on the spot, Sinaloa state Attorney General Marco Higuera said.

Also in western Mexico, soldiers dismantled a big lab in the state of Jalisco where crystal meth was made, the Defense Department said in a statement Friday.

The lab at a ranch in the town of Zapotlanejo was inside a four-story building that could hold at least 30 workers and it housed several warehouses. Soldiers seized 400 pounds (180 kilograms) of crystal meth and 145 tons (132 metric tons) of precursor chemicals, the military said.

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Filed by Clare Richardson  |