A long-running battle between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Cárteles Unidos in Aguililla, Michoacán, spilled into other Tierra Caliente municipalities this week.
Residents have reported narco-blockades and/or confrontations in the municipalities of Aguililla, Tepalcatepec, Buenavista and Apatzingán, located in western Michoacán on or near the border with Jalisco.
Photographs and videos posted online show heavily-armed men from both the CJNG and Cárteles Unidos traveling in armored vehicles in the municipalities, where they have clashed in both built-up areas and on lime farms. The latter group is mainly led by members of the Viagras crime gang, the newspaper Reforma reported, and also has links to self-defense groups.
The Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán is coveted by criminal groups due to its proximity to Pacific coast ports, through which illegal drugs are smuggled into the country, as well as its iron mines and forests. CJNG leader Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera Cervantes hails from a small town in Aguililla and in late 2019 was reportedly planning to move back there and make the region his “bunker.”
Lengthy clashes between the CJNG and the Cárteles Unidos left two people dead in Buenavista on Monday, according to residents, and there have also been gun battles in Tepalcatepec, where the number of victims is unclear. Authorities haven’t announced official death counts for any of the recent clashes.
José Segura, a Catholic priest in Apatzingán, said Tuesday the National Guard failed to intervene in the confrontation between the CJNG and the Cárteles Unidos in Buenavista, which is now in its fourth day.
“The criminal groups are in the center of Buenavista. What these groups do is look for people who they believe are from the opposing side; they threaten them, burn their houses, take them out and they can even murder them. So the downtown area of Buenavista is one of terror,” he said in a video message.
“Sadly, the National Guard is on the outskirts of the town, at the entrance points, making sure that nobody disrupts the witch hunt of the Cárteles Unidos. Instead of helping the population, they’re looking after those who are now tormenting the people. Nobody goes to help them, that’s the way thing are, how they’ve been and how they will [always] be. There’s no human power that can contain these monsters,” Segura said.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Communications and Transportation (SCT) reported three highway blockades in Michoacán on Tuesday.
Two were established by a criminal group on the highway between Apatzingán and Tepalcatepec and a third was set up between Uruapan and Nueva Italia by a group known as Pueblos Unidos, which is made up of avocado farmers who decided to take up arms against organized crime. The SCT warned against travel on the affected roads.
Blockades were also reported on Monday and have been frequently set up on the Aguililla-Apatzingán highway by both the CJNG and the Cárteles Unidos, leaving residents of the former city unable to access essential goods for extended periods of time.
Possibly sparking the latest outbreak of violence was the kidnaping of a self-defense group founder on Sunday in Buenavista by presumed CJNG members or people affiliated with them. However, Ángel Gutiérrez Aguilar, known as “El Kiro,” was rescued on Tuesday morning, according to Tepalcatepec self-defense groups.
One self-defense group member said in an interview that Gutiérrez was located after a boy heard him shouting from an abandoned house where he was being held captive. Self-defense force members subsequently rescued him, he said, explaining that “El Kiro” had injuries inflicted by his abductors.
The doctor treating Gutiérrez described his condition as delicate but stable, explaining that he already had high blood pressure and previously underwent heart surgery.
“I have him slightly sedated because he arrived shocked by everything that happened; he didn’t eat or drink water for two days, he’s dehydrated,” he said.
Gutiérrez was a leader of a self-defense group that formed in Michoacán in 2013 to take up the fight to the Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar cartel. There is some hope that his rescue will help calm the situation in Michoacán’s Tierra Caliente, a region notorious for violent crime.