The attack yesterday against the Casino Royale in Monterrey, where 61 people died and many others were injured, is the worst tragedy Mexicans have faced during the drug war.
“These terrorists have surpassed all limits,” said Mexican President Felipe Calderón in a message to the nation today. He also offered a substantial reward for information that could help track those responsible for the attack.
This is the first time that the Mexican government uses the word “terrorists” to refer to organized crime. It is the first acceptance that terrorism has hit Mexico. The government refused to use that word even after a car bomb exploded in Ciudad Juárez last year.
The big question now is what kind of implication this recognition will have in the drug war strategy.
In countries that have dealt with organized crime and terrorism, such as Colombia or Peru, similar attacks marked a watershed for society and authorities in the way that they look at the problem.
In a conversation with a group of Peruvian friends yesterday, they remembered the Tarata incident in Lima, Peru, in July 1992. The attack, perpetrated by the Shining Path guerrilla group, killed more than 24 people and injured more than 200. It was a blast of more than 1,000 kilograms of explosives in Tarata Street, the busy business area of Miraflores, an upscale district of the city.
The attack shocked the entire Peruvian society and generated a public response that forced the government to intensify its fight against the Shining Path.
In Colombia, a country more used to bombings and terrorist attacks, it was not just one incident that prompted a reaction from the civil society and the intensification of the drug war strategy. Some of the triggers were the bombing of an Avianca plane in 1989, where 107 passengers died, and the DAS’s building bomb in 1989, which killed 52 people and injured more than 1,000.
Yesterday’s attack in Monterrey is significant, not just because it shook the financial heart of the country and killed a large number of innocent civilians, but also because it has shown that the war has escalated to previously unknown levels.
The days coming up are not looking bright.