August 4, 2022

In western Mexico, cartel violence leaves 35,000 displaced

Activists in the violence-ridden western state of Michoacan call on the government to fight all drug cartels equally and return land to thousands of people displaced by the fights.

MEXICO CITY — Activists in the violence-ridden western Mexican state of Michoacan said Tuesday the government must fight all drug cartels equally and return land to around 35,000 people displaced by the fighting.

“In terms of security, we are worse than ever,” said Hipolito Mora, founder and former leader of the 2013-2014 vigilante vigilante movement that expelled the Templar cartel from Michoacan.

But the cartels are back, with the Jalisco cartel fighting the local Viagras gang for control of the state. The battle featured heavy weaponry and the use of bomb-width drones. The government’s response has been to delay the incursions of the Jalisco Cartel, while doing little to stop other gangs.

Mora said a group of activists met with senior government officials on Tuesday and told them that “they must fight all cartels, not just one.” They also demanded that authorities take into account the advice and opinions of Michoacan residents when developing a new strategy, he said.

Reverend Gregorio López, a Catholic priest once known for wearing a bulletproof vest when celebrating Mass, said drug cartels now essentially control parts of the state.

“There are areas where the government frankly cannot go, areas … where organized crime has total control,” he said.

López said at least 35,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and farms in recent years and the government should return their lands and repay their losses.

The priest said the warring drug cartels extort money from almost all goods passing through Michoacan.

“All suppliers are billed. They have to pay for protection on the outskirts of town. There are little plastic tables and guys charging there,” said López, who frequently carries food and supplies for the displaced.

“I was carrying a load of ground corn, powder, and I had to pay 200 pesos ($10) for them to let my truck pass. Otherwise they would burn it,” he said of a recent experience.

Michoacan’s armed civilian self-defense movement lasted from 2013 to 2014, but many self-defense forces were later infiltrated by the cartels.