VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico – Criminals in the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco commandeered and burned five vehicles Monday in an apparent bid to intimidate the National Guard, a new public-safety force created by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
In a pair of simultaneous dawn attacks on two different highways in the Villahermosa area, the criminals blocked lanes, dragged drivers and passengers from vehicles and then set the cars alight.
Both roads were closed for hours as firefighters put out the flames and tow-trucks removed the charred vehicles.
Left at each site was a sign with a message addressed to the National Guard: “We know that you come with everyone, but it remains to be seen how many get out alive. Get in line or we will put you in line. Attention: Pelon de Playas del Rosario.”
“Pelon de Playas” is the pseudonym of crime boss Trinidad Alvarez Miranda, reputed to be an important figure in drug trafficking and fuel theft in Tabasco.
State and federal police launched a search for the assailants.
“We’ll see when we get out of this bottleneck,” a motorist told EFE after sitting in traffic for more than two hours. “Organized crime apparently has problems with the National Guard and it’s going to have serious consequences.”
Authorities are serious about fighting crime, Tabasco Public Safety Secretary Angel Balcazar told Mexican radio.
“One way or another, we in the government are going to confront this,” he said.
Tabasco, Lopez Obrador’s home state, is not known for having a major presence of the drug cartels and other criminal outfits that have long terrorized other parts of Mexico.
Leaving threatening messages at crime scenes is an established practice for Mexican gangsters, but this is the first instance of a reference to the National Guard, which Lopez Obrador formally inaugurated on Sunday at the main military base in Mexico City.
The force, comprising 70,000 police, soldiers and marines, is divided among 150 operational sectors.
While the Guard’s primary purpose is to curb the violence that led to more than 33,000 homicides nationwide in 2018, the government has also deployed units to the southern and northern borders in response to demands from the United States that Mexico reduce the northbound flow of Central American migrants.