MONCLOVA, Mexico —
“What we’re seeing now is nothing other than the reaccommodation of the criminal groups with the new government teams,” Vera said later as he raced back to Saltillo for another Mass. “The criminal groups always have their agreements with those who are in the state governments, in the federal government.”
An industrial hub on the high desert about an hour west of Monterrey, Saltillo had long been known as a quiet haven in Mexico, distinguished by its auto manufacturing and a modern museum exhaustively detailing the surrounding terrain.
In recent years, however, the area has fallen victim to the drug violence plaguing other parts of Mexico. In 2011, 729 murders hit the state, compared to 449 the year before and 107 in 2006, according to preliminary figures released by the government this summer. Four bodies were found hanging from a Saltillo overpass earlier this month.
Until the nephew of Gov. Ruben Moreira was killed in early October, the political class had showed little concern for violence, Vera said.
“Fear of the conditions that Mexico is going through with the insecurity, with so much violence, makes us silent, and Don Raul is a strong voice who says what the rest of us are too scared to say,” said Maria Luz Lopez Morales, a Vera friend and self-professed atheist who runs literacy programs for women in rural areas outside Monclova.
Vera arrived in Saltillo in 2000, after serving as the co-bishop in a deeply divided diocese in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, where Zapatista rebels were battling government troops. He came with a reputation as a social crusader.
“Ever since I arrived here, as I came from Chiapas and I wasn’t a person who was going to support the government, since this moment they decided that my image needed to be restrained,” Vera said. He pointed to critical coverage from a local television network where a host once displayed Vera’s picture surrounded by flames of eternal damnation. Vera said he believed the host was paid to do the government’s bidding.