MONTERREY, Mexico — The northern city of Monterrey, once Mexico's symbol of development and prosperity, is fast becoming a new Ciudad Juarez.
Drug-related murders this year are on pace to double last year's and triple those of the year before in the once-tranquil industrial hub. In recent weeks a tortured, screaming teenager was hanged alive from a bridge. Two of the governor's bodyguards were dismembered and dumped with messages threatening the state leader.
Last week, gunmen killed 20 people in a bar where Ziplock bags of drugs were found, the largest mass murder to date in the metro area of 4 million people. The toll continued this week: 14 were killed in separate hits on Wednesday, eight more on Thursday.
Officials say two cartels turned the city upside down practically overnight when they split in early 2010 and are trying to outdo each other with grisly displays.
Security officials acknowledge they don't know how much worse it will get.
"As long as there are consumers and a critical mass of young people for these gangs to recruit, it's hard to imagine the number (of killings) will go down," said Jorge Domene, state security spokesman for Nuevo Leon state, where Monterrey is located.
The scale of the killings has rarely been seen in Mexico outside border cities such as Juarez, Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo, the main gateways for drugs passing into the United States, which have seen dramatic surges of violence since President Felipe Calderon intensified Mexico's crackdown on organized crime in 2006.
And fear is starting to fray the social order. Concern over violence has caused enrollment to drop at the home campus of Mexico's top private university, the Technology Institute of Monterrey, which has had to lay off some employees.
The chamber of industry in a brash, proud city where the annual income per capita is double the national average didn't want to talk to the Associated Press about the impact of violence on business, though some executives say they've had to spend more on security.