The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) has fled Aguililla, Michoacán, after the army entered the notoriously violent Tierra Caliente municipality on Tuesday.
Members of the powerful criminal group escaped via the mountains and headed to the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas, according to a report by the newspaper Milenio.
The CJNG has been involved in a turf war with the Cárteles Unidos in Aguililla and the broader Tierra Caliente region since early 2021.
Milenio reported that Aguililla was surrounded by government security forces on Wednesday. Vehicles entering the municipality were inspected by soldiers with the aim of detecting drugs and weapons.
The Ministry of National Defense (Sedena) said in a statement Tuesday that the army, National Guard and Michoacán state police had entered Aguililla to carry out operations aimed at strengthening the rule of law in the region.
Sedena said that it fulfilled that objective in 43 localities in the municipalities of Aguililla, Buenavista, Coalcomán and Tepalcatepec.
As a result, residents were able to return to their homes and crops were able to be harvested and commercialized, the ministry said.
It also said that the security forces “liberated” three main roads and seized more than 150 kilograms of marijuana, firearms, ammunition, 23 improvised explosive devices, 21 vehicles (including some that were armored) and tactical equipment.
The community of El Aguaje – where the CJNG has paraded armored vehicles and carried out a drone attack against police – had been a virtual ghost town due to the presence of the feuding criminal organizations, but several businesses opened after the army’s arrival, Milenio said.
Residents who spoke with the newspaper warned that the criminals — and the violence they generate – would return if the army leaves the region. Locals have long been calling for a military intervention to combat organized crime.
During a visit to Aguililla last April, the Vatican’s then-ambassador to Mexico, Archbishop Franco Coppola, said that organized crime flourishes where the state is absent, while residents accused the army — which has a barracks in the town — of doing little to combat the cartels.
The Associated Press reported in November that the army had largely stopped fighting the cartels in Aguililla and surrounding areas. Instead, soldiers were guarding dividing lines between cartel territories so that they wouldn’t encroach on each other’s turf, the news agency said.
Criminal groups seek to control the Tierra Caliente region and other Michoacán municipalities because of the opportunities to extort lime producers, cattle ranchers, avocado farmers and operators of iron ore mines.
Violence in Tierra Caliente municipalities has displaced thousands of people since President López Obrador took office in late 2018, many of whom have sought asylum in the United States.
With reports from Milenio