World News

Factbox: Drug war tarnishes Mexico's richest city

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - Once an oasis of calm, Mexico’s richest city has become a central battleground in the country’s increasingly bloody drug war as cartels open fire on city streets and throw grenades onto busy highways.

Here are some facts about the city 140 miles from the border with Texas:

* Nestled in picturesque mountains and home to 4 million people, Monterrey is one of Latin America’s premier business cities. With 4 percent of Mexico’s population, it generates 8 percent of annual gross domestic product. A few hours drive from the U.S. border, the city has a Texan feel, with its car culture, Carl’s Jr. hamburger restaurants and manicured parks.

* Residents of Monterrey, known as “regios” for the mountainous region they live in, are famed for being staid and canny with money. Annual income per capita is double the Mexican average at $17,000, although still below the Texas average of $38,000, according to the University of Monterrey. In summer, wealthier regios flock to South Padre Island off the Texan coast. Many have adopted English words like “shopping”, which they love to do in McAllen, also in Texas.

* Monterrey is home to two top-flight Mexican soccer teams and major companies such as drinks maker FEMSA. FEMSA helped spark industrialization in Monterrey at the end of the 19th century, when the company’s brewery attracted glass and steelmakers to bottle and cap its beer.

* In 2002, Monterrey hosted a U.N. conference on combating global poverty attended by 50 world leaders. The city was chosen for its low crime, universities and diversified economy based on manufacturing, trade and high-tech industries.

* Monterrey started seeing serious drug violence in 2006 with the killing of a top police investigator, but stayed relatively calm until this year when drug murders have leapt to an unprecedented 650 people, far more than the past four years combined. The killings are due to a battle between the Gulf cartel and its former armed wing, the Zetas, over trafficking routes into the United States. The former allies split in early 2008 and their feud erupted into war in January as the Zetas, made up of elite former soldiers, run their own cartel.

Reporting by Robin Emmott in Monterrey; Editing by Jerry Norton