The attack that burned 52 people to death at a casino in an upscale neighborhood was bad. But what really scared Idalia Villafana’s customers away were the body parts once strewn across the plaza near her restaurant.
Villafana, 41, says she still can’t believe that the barbarism wrought by the Zetas drug cartel has largely subsided here near Monterrey, Mexico’s third-biggest metropolis, just a few years after she’d almost given up hope for peace.
For that, she can thank local business leaders who got fed up with the penetration of the legal system by criminal syndicates and helped create and fund a unique program to take back the streets. The result: murders in this industrial hub on the steps of the Sierra Madre are at a five-year low and commerce is once again thriving.
A bustling symbol of the turnaround is the factory South Korea’s Kia Motors Corp. is building for more than $1 billion not far from where the Zetas once operated a paramilitary base. That’s helped push the wider Nuevo Leon region, which touches Texas, past Mexico City as the national leader in pledged foreign direct investment, with another $6 billion expected this year, state officials say.
The money is trickling down the way it should for small business owners like Villafana, who has a contract to feed 190 of the workers from the Kia project at her modest, white-washed eatery. At the height of the violence in 2011, she says she struggled to pay a single employee. Now she pays six and is struggling to keep up with demand.