MEXICO CITY, Mexico — As stricken communities dig out from the one-two punch of tropical cyclones that hit Mexico's coasts last week, organized crime has been pitching in.
The Gulf Cartel, the drug-trafficking organization that controls much of the country's northeast, is believed to have dispensed food, water and medical supplies to a rural town slammed by Hurricane Ingrid in Tamaulipas state.
A YouTube video local media attributed to the drug gang appears to show its aid effort.
“This is how the Gulf Cartel fulfilled the mission,” a message at the end of the rap-accompanied video says shortly before an image of a smiling Jesus Christ flashes on the screen.
Storm relief fits perfectly into Mexican gangsters’ long-practiced public relations campaigns, many of them carried on YouTube and other social media. The powerful drug gangs strive to present themselves as the “good bad guys,” interested only in smuggling narcotics to consumers in the United States while leaving Mexican communities in peace.
Former Gulf Cartel boss Osiel Cardenas, now serving a long sentence in a US federal prison, for years has paid for annual toy giveaways in communities where the gang reigns. The cartel and other warring gangs routinely hang banners in battleground communities, assuring residents of their good intentions and vowing to go after criminals preying on the locals.
“We don't kidnap or murder innocents,” read banners recently strung up in western Mexico and signed by the Jalisco Cartel-New Generation. That group claimed credit two years ago for murdering 35 supposed members of the bloody Zetas gang and dumping their bodies on a busy street in the port of Veracruz. The gang vowed to “clean up” the city on behalf of citizens.
It's likely, if still unclear, if similar post-cyclone good works are under way in northwestern Sinaloa state, where Hurricane Manuel landed late last week, flooding coastal towns and cities and dropping inches of rain deep inside the marijuana and opium poppy-producing Sierra Madre.
Sinaloa is the turf of supposed uber-gangster Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and many other major Mexican traffickers. Chapo's faction of the so-called Sinaloa Cartel has been a war with rivals in recent months for control of much of the northern half of the state.
The Gulf Cartel's alleged relief effort came as President Enrique Peña Nieto toured the stricken areas of Mexico's Pacific coast, where Manual's deluge caused most of last week's death and destruction.
Some 115 people have been confirmed killed by the dual storms, most of them in impoverished Guerrero state. The body count continues to rise amid relief work in communities isolated by road collapses and mudslides.
Peña Nieto said Saturday there was scant hope of finding nearly 70 people who remain missing after a mudslide in the mountain village of La Pintada, about 30 miles northwest of the badly flooded resort city of Acapulco. At least 18 bodies were pulled from the mud in La Pintada last week.
On Sunday, Mexican officials announced that the relief effort and rebuilding would inflate the 2014 federal budget, which already is under scrutiny because a proposed fiscal reform seeks to increase social spending while raising taxes on the wealthy and middle class.
The Red Cross and other groups are collecting tons of food, clothing and other aid for storm around the country. But the Mexican media reports that much of the aid so far has failed to reach some of the hardest hit areas.
No worries, the friendly neighborhood gangsters stand at the ready.
"They have been good people, in good times and bad in Aldama," say messages that appear on the screen as the camera pans the food being handed out. "If they are helping, it's because they have heart."