Over 50 people are dead from a fire at the Casino Royale at San Jerónimo, No. 205, Colonia San Jeronimo, in Monterrey, Mexico, after at least six or more gunmen burst into the building on Thursday afternoon, August 25, 2011 at about 4:00 p.m. local time and ignited containers of gasoline, according to reports published by The Wall Street Journal, CBC News, Reuters, BBC News, Los Angeles Times, the Voice of America, The Denver Post, and multiple other sources on Thursday, August 25, 2011.
Officials in Mexico, including the Nuevo León state governor Rodrigo Medina, said that the death toll now stood at 53, but is likely to rise.
About 80 persons were in the building, located in a prosperous section of Mexico’s third largest metropolitan area at the time of the attack, some taking part in various celebrations. According to 2010 census estimates, over 4 million people live in the city.
Monterrey is located about 140 miles to the southwest of the United States border with Mexico, and the city of Laredo, Texas. It has been described as very American in appearance, and hosts such multinational companies as Mercedes- Benz, BMW, Sony, Toshiba, Nokia, Boeing, Toyota, and many others.
This was the second time the casino was attacked, after an earlier incident in May, 2011 in a shakedown protection scheme, in which the owners refused to pay extortion, a source of income for the drug traffickers. No injuries occurred in the previous incident.
The President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón, described the attack as a “barbaric act of terror” and promised to continue fighting organized crime.
Over 42,000 people have been killed in the escalating drug war across Mexico since Mr. Calderón took office on December 1, 2006 and deployed troops against the drug cartels which control large areas of Mexico, as shown in the attached slide show and video clip which accompany this report.
The attack yesterday was especially violent and unusual as it involved innocent civilians, who are usually spared such direct assaults in battles involving other rival cartels.
The casino had previously also been shut down because its owners had not obtained required building permits for a construction project, but a municipal judge overturned that order and allowed it to reopen.
Emergency fire exits that were locked, preventing many to escape from the burning building, are also being blamed for contributing to the large death toll, although many of the victims were discovered huddled in bathrooms, where they sought refuge from the gunmen.
Except for an attack on September 15, 2008 in which grenades were tossed into a crowd at a Mexican Independence Day celebration, killing eight and wounding 131, organized crime has avoided killing civilians.
Officials have avoided describing such acts as “terrorist attacks” to play down the possibility of an armed insurrection against the government. However, soon after yesterday’s killings, President Felipe Calderón called the Casino attack a “barbaric act of terror.”
While Mexico’s leader, a member of the National Action Party (PAN), and a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, may be upping his rhetoric, the cartels are not likely to be intimidated by his strong words.
According to a statement by Alberto Islas, a security expert and CEO at Risk Evaluation, Limited, to a Reuters correspondent, such incidents are proof that the government of Mr. Calderón has failed to impact the power of the cartels, saying “The impunity and lack of investigation were the most obvious incentives for the criminals to carry out this act of violence. At the end of the day, they know nothing will be done about it.”
What makes the drug cartels so successful is the profitability of their trafficking, rampant government corruption that has been aided by the gang’s threats of “silver or lead”, which translates as “accept bribes or chose a bullet to the head”, and the demand for their products across the border in the United States.
Until that deadly combination can be broken, such incidents as the Casino Royale arson attack may become more common all over Mexico.
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