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Two backhoes go to work on the heliport. Two backhoes go to work on the heliport.

Citizens dig up army’s Aguililla heliport, cutting off its source of supplies

But local priest sees advances and is hopeful that army will keep the highway open

A week after preventing an army helicopter from landing by launching firecrackers and throwing stones at it, residents of Aguililla, Michoacán, dug up the city’s makeshift military heliport in an attempt to cut off supplies to soldiers.

Residents of the Tierra Caliente municipality are angry because they’ve been unable to buy basic goods themselves as access to Aguililla has been intermittently cut off by criminal organizations for months.

Many residents say that the soldiers deployed to Aguililla have failed in their mission to combat the warring criminal groups that operate in the municipality – the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and the Cárteles Unidos – and have consequently turned against them.

A video posted to social media on Thursday shows two backhoes digging up the military’s heliport, located on a hill near the city. One person is seen with a slingshot pointed in the direction of a military base, which sits below the hill.

The person filming the video zooms in on the base, where numerous soldiers are seen standing outside but make no attempts to climb the hill and put an end to the destruction of the heliport.

The army committed this week to ensuring that the Aguililla-Apatzingán highway remains open during daylight hours, but residents say that hasn’t yet occurred.

However, local priest Gilberto Sepúlveda said Thursday evening that the army had begun work to clear the highway and that the situation in Aguililla was calmer than before.

“I believe there have been various advances and there are things that provide hope. General Montealegre told me this morning that there is already an operation in the places where there are blockades and soldiers will be permanently deployed there,” Sepúlveda said in a radio interview.

Despite citizens’ actions against the army – its barracks have also been attacked with stones – Aguililla residents are not seeking conflict with authorities, the priest said, adding that they just want the rule of law to be applied.

“Those of us from here are not the baddies, we’re people caught in the middle of a war and that puts us at risk. … A lot of the protests [against the army] are because [the people] want to be protected,” Sepúlveda said.

President López Obrador on Wednesday called on Aguililla residents – and criminal groups – not to act violently toward authorities and “not do damage” to property.

“There are always ways out [of difficult situations] … and coexistence is being achieved. There should be dialogue and everyone should act responsibly. …. We don’t want anyone to suffer, … we say no to violence,” he said.

The president on Tuesday said he wasn’t like his predecessors and wouldn’t order criminals operating in Aguililla to be exterminated by military force.

“I’m not [Enrique] Peña [Nieto], I’m not Felipe Calderón, I’m not in favor of killing them in cold blood, I’m not in favor of torture, I’m not in favor of the criminal association that there was between organized crime and authorities. We’re different,” López Obrador said.

He added that the army will continue to have a presence in Aguililla, despite residents’ complaints against the military.

With reports from Latinus, Infobae and Milenio

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