Soldiers threw up roadblocks Friday and scoured the hills for rebels after a day of guerrilla attacks that left 14 people dead, the peso falling and the stock market in retreat.
Mexican newspapers worried that the coordinated raids Thursday in five Mexican states - the most wide-ranging guerrilla action in decades - could be a new threat to the nation.
President Ernesto Zedillo vowed Friday never to negotiate with the armed rebels whom he described as “terrorists and criminals.”
“No way! No way!” Zedillo told The Los Angeles Times, rejecting any talks with the rebels. “They have acted criminally, with extreme violence, and their social platform is incoherent and absurd.”
Zedillo said he expects key arrests in coming days, as the Mexican army and federal agents systematically “dismantle” the Popular Revolutionary Army, which, after claiming responsibility for coordinated, fatal attacks in four states, called for a sweeping revolt against him and his government.
The U.S. State Department said the attacks didn’t seem to jeopardize Mexico’s political or economic stability, and there were no immediate signs of tourist cancellations that could affect Mexico’s $6 billion-a-year foreign tourism industry. No tourists were injured.
But some visiting Americans were jittery. Ten people died in an attack Thursday near the popular Pacific resort of Huatulco.
“Obviously, this hurts us,” said Pia Oberholzer, manager of the Huatulco Hotel and Motel Association. “We are concerned about the repercussions in Mexico and abroad. It might produce a fear that doesn’t exist.”
The government announced tightened security measures at airports and coastal resorts to prevent more attacks. Around Huatulco, in southern Mexico, army troops searched the hills for rebels. Roadblocks dotted the countryside.
Margie Taylor, 53, from Tulsa, Okla., confessed: “I feel nervous. I do. I’m sorry.”
Normally, the only news from Mexican beach resorts is the day’s weather report.
With six corpses laid out Friday on the police station floor of this Pacific resort favored by U.S. tourists - two policemen, two rebels and two civilians - the headlines now are all about a shadowy leftist group destabilizing the country.
Interior Undersecretary Arturo Nunez said the Popular Revolutionary Army, the group which launched the raids and is known by the Spanish acronym EPR, was an arm of a Marxist group called the Clandestine Revolutionary Workers Party Union of the People, or PROCUP.
“It is a radical group which said it seeks power through violent means, which proclaims that a dictatorship of the proletariat should be installed in Mexico to construct socialism,” Nunez told the Televisa network.
Declarations from the EPR have called for a new government, a new constitution and leftist economic changes but not for a socialist dictatorship.
However, Sergio Bautista, one of six men arrested in the wave of attacks, told police “the ideology of the EPR is of a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist type,” according to testimony released by the Interior Secretariat, the agency in charge of domestic security.
Nunez, speaking later at a news conference, estimated that less than 200 fighters took part in the attacks Wednesday night and Thursday morning.
He said the dead included three soldiers, six policemen, two civilians and two attackers. An officer injured in the Huatulco attack died later Friday.
Another man who’d been feared a casualty of the attacks, 24-year-old policeman Guadalupe Cruz Martinez, was found unwounded Friday, the Oaxaca state public security chief said.
Chief Juan Cruz Ramales said Cruz was walking around, talking incoherently to himself, in the town of Tlaxiaco. He was hospitalized for psychiatric treatment.
The EPR attacked troops, police or city halls in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Mexico and Puebla states. It blocked a road in the southernmost state of Chiapas.
The State Department condemned the attacks, saying: “There can be no justification for violence in pursuit of political ends in Mexico. However, it is important to underscore that the United States does not consider these actions threatening to Mexican political or economic stability.”
Officials have consistently downplayed the significance of the EPR since it appeared June 28 near Acapulco.
Just last week, Nunez told reporters that the EPR seemed to be confined to the state of Guerrero.
By Friday, he was saying “We should not make too much of it, nor should we minimize it,” adding: “The actions worry the government.”
With that, he announced the government has reinforced security “in the strategic installations of the country” ahead of Sunday’s state of the nation speech by Zedillo.
Federal police with dogs strolled through Mexico City airport on Friday and beefed-up detachments of troops where checking cars, trucks and buses along many highways.
“New actions by this group cannot be discounted,” Nunez said, because the group “wants attention, to generate a climate of anxiety, of uncertainty, to project an image abroad of a destabilized Mexico.”