CUERNAVACA, Mexico – The preferred form of cruelty by drug cartel henchmen is to capture enemies and behead them, a once-shocking act that has now become numbingly routine.
Since March 22, authorities have come across four separate grisly scenes of beheaded bodies, in one case with several heads placed neatly in a row.
Dozens of people have been decapitated in recent months, most of them apparently members of rival drug gangs locked in turf battles over narcotics routes, betrayals of loyalty and territorial influence.
One morning last week, four bodies were thrown on a sidewalk along a service road of radiator shops and garages abutting the main highway leading from Mexico’s capital through this city to the south and on to Acapulco, the Pacific beach resort. One of the bodies was missing its head.
As is usual in drug-related beheadings, a sign was left next to the bodies. It was addressed to Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a Mexican-American drug trafficker known by the nickname La Barbie because his light complexion makes him look like Ken, the companion of the Barbie doll. “Here are your homosexuals,” the note began. “This will happen to all the traitors and those who support you.”
Decapitations by drug cartels in Mexico first began in 2006, and that year armed thugs swaggered onto the white tile dance floor of the Sol y Sombra discotheque in Uruapan, a town in Michoacan state, and dumped five heads from plastic garbage bags.
The blood-curdling act shocked Mexico and evoked images of Islamic terrorism half a world away.
“These guys are copying the methods of al-Qaida (terrorists),” said Jorge Chabat, a criminal justice expert at the Center for Research and Teaching of Economics in Mexico City. He said the Mexican drug lords saw Internet video of beheadings of hostages captured by Muslim extremists in Iraq and Pakistan, and adopted the tactic themselves, down to the posting of video on the Internet.
Experts suggest that the drug gangs have several motives. First, they seek to use beheadings to cow the citizenry from squealing on them and to pressure local authorities to collaborate. Second, the gangs try to out-macho each other with greater acts of macabre violence, frightening rivals in a murderous spiral.
The only hitch is that all the drug gangs have taken up beheadings.
“Even though everybody does it, it still works. That’s the problem,” Chabat said. “If you’re a trafficker and you know that this is part of the game, the idea of having your head decapitated is not attractive.”
National print media in Mexico now downplay the beheadings, giving them scant paragraphs.
The pace of drug-related violence is quickening. March was the bloodiest month yet with 958 deaths, El Universal newspaper reported Thursday. Since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006, confronting drug cartels, 18,757 people have died, it said.