An operation against the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel in Villagrán, Guanajuato, yielded results yesterday: cash allegedly paid to residents to man highway blockades was seized and two people close to the cartel’s suspected leader were arrested.
State police found dozens of envelopes containing 1,500 pesos (US $77) that are believed to have been given to people who participated in blockades that were set up yesterday to repel federal and state security forces at two points on the Celaya-San Miguel de Allende highway, two points on the Salamanca-Querétaro highway and at the entrance to the town of Santa Rosa de Lima, among other locations.
A photograph published in the newspaper Reforma showed an envelope stamped with a message that warned recipients that they “must go out to protest when required.”
Guanajuato Governor Diego Sinhue Rodríguez said the envelopes were evidence that the blockade participants were paid by the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, a gang of fuel thieves.
He also said that the joint operation conducted by the military, Federal Police and state police to locate suspected cartel leader José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez Ortiz is continuing.
“We’re continuing to execute search warrants. The operation hasn’t concluded, it’s going to be permanent and we’re going to be here day and night until we return peace to this area,” Rodríguez said.
Angélica N., sister-in-law of Yépez Ortiz and allegedly a financial operator for the fuel theft organization, was arrested yesterday as was her husband, an active Federal Police officer identified only as Javier N.
Sources told the newspaper Milenio that Angélica N. – the sister of Yépez Ortiz’s wife – was in charge of organizing the blockades aimed at preventing security forces from getting into Santa Rosa de Lima, where El Marro is believed to be in hiding.
Javier N. allegedly provided information to the cartel about the movements of the forces, which enabled it to strategically choose where to set up blockades.
A third person identified as Mariela N., who also allegedly helped to organize the blockades, was also arrested yesterday.
A dozen cars, a truck and tires were set alight yesterday to hinder the security operation, which began in the early hours of Monday morning.
As federal and state security forces continue to search for Yépez Ortiz, the mayor of Villagrán has come under suspicion of protecting the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.
Governor Rodríguez and state Attorney General Carlos Zamarripa have both accused Juan Lara Mendoza of refusing to participate in the operation against the cartel and its leader.
Zamarripa told a press conference Monday that the entire Villagrán police force ignored calls for backup to remove blockades preventing state and federal security forces from entering Santa Rosa de Lima.
But Lara rejects allegations that he and the municipal police force are in cahoots with the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel and denies knowing El Marro.
“I don’t know him and I haven’t received any payment, we’re not linked to any criminal group,” he told a press conference.
The mayor claimed that residents of Santa Rosa de Lima are opposed to the joint military and police operation – and have set up blockades to hinder it – because they fear that they will be victims of human rights violations and that their properties will be damaged as has happened “on previous dates.”
Lara added that he was unconcerned about being investigated for supposedly collaborating with the fuel theft gang, which is believed to be behind much of the violence that made Guanajuato México’s most violent state last year.
“I don’t fear anyone, I’ve lived an honorable life, I’ve never committed any crime, I haven’t been in jail even for being drunk so I have no fear,” he said.
Lara also asserted that the municipal police work for the citizens of Villagrán, not organized crime.
In a television interview, he denied having any knowledge that Yépez Ortiz is in the municipality and that his gang of fuel thieves operates there.
“He’s like the devil, we all know he exists but nobody sees him . . . I believe that he doesn’t live here, I’m not aware of that . . . As far as I know, he doesn’t operate in Villagrán.”
Meanwhile, there was gunfire this morning at the federal attorney general’s office in nearby Irapuato. Gunmen aboard two vehicles fired several times at the office shortly after 6:00am, damaging the building and a pickup truck parked outside.
There were no casualties, a security spokeswoman said.