More than 22,000 people have fled violence in Michoacán since President López Obrador took office in late 2018, according to an activist Catholic priest.
“The Tierra Caliente of Michoacán is the territory of cartels and terrorism,” said Gregorio López, an Apatzingán-based priest and founder of El Buen Samaritano (The Good Samaritan), a civil society organization that operates shelters for displaced people.
“… They use drones to throw bombs at the civilian population, they kidnap the poorest people, … the sicarios [cartel hitmen] murder, kidnap and rape,” he told the newspaper El Universal.
“In the three years of the López Obrador government, more than 22,000 residents have fled that area [Tierra Caliente]; half of them sought asylum in the United States,” said the priest widely known as Padre Goyo.
“… Half of them already crossed into the United States, and some others are waiting in cities such as Tijuana while their asylum paperwork [is processed],” he clarified.
One of those displaced persons is a woman El Universal identified only as Lupita. Her husband was killed, one of her sons was abducted and she was raped before members of a cartel that operates in Coalcomán – a Tierra Caliente municipality — arrived at her ranch in June. They threatened to kill her and her other three children if she didn’t leave within three hours, El Universal said.
Lupita fled to Aguililla – another Tierra Caliente municipality plagued by the violence generated by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Cárteles Unidos – leaving behind her home, belongings, car, cattle and farm machinery. From Aguililla she traveled to Tijuana, Baja California, where the group Dreamers Moms and other organizations helped her seek asylum in the United States, where she now lives.
The organization López founded has also helped displaced michoacanos seek asylum in the U.S., providing them with letters of recommendation and other documents to strengthen their cases.
The priest told El Universal that Michoacán is a “state without law” apart from that established by organized crime. The federal and state government abandoned thousands of residents who were forced to flee to northern border cities or the United States, he said.
“There is a state of war, of terrorism, in Michoacán. That’s the way United States authorities are considering several municipalities such as Coalcomán and Aguililla,” López said.
“The Biden administration is documenting the violence – the massacres that are occurring in the face of the passivity and complicity of the Mexican government and the Michoacán government,” he said.
One community that has become a virtual ghost town due to the large number of residents who have left is El Aguaje, where the CJNG paraded a “narco-tank” through the streets earlier this year.
Some 2,300 people formerly lived in the town, but the current population doesn’t exceed 200 because most residents have fled to Mexico’s north or the United States, López said.
Large numbers of people have also fled communities such as Barranca Seca in Coalcomán and El Cajón in Apatzingán, he said.
“In a single week, 3,500 people were displaced from the municipality of Tepalcatepec due to violence in that area of Tierra Caliente. Communities such as Las Truchas, Colomos, El Bejuco and San Isidro … were practically abandoned out of fear of the cartels that operate there,” López added.
“This is no longer a war between cartels or against the population. It’s well-systematized terrorism in Tierra Caliente,” he said.
“… There is no presence of the National Guard. The discourse of [President López Obrador’s] morning press conferences is a complete lie here. That ‘hugs, not bullets’ [security strategy] is nonsense,” the priest said, referring to the government’s strategy of addressing the root causes of violence with social programs rather than confronting cartels with force.
“It’s a lack of respect for the families who have suffered massacres and rapes. President López Obrador should come here and hug a sicario and a criminal who’s dropping bombs with drones. It’s an insult.”
The priest also took aim at Silvano Aureoles, who finished his six-year term as governor of Michoacán last Saturday.
“The biggest criminal of this state is Silvano Aureoles; he sold himself to a cartel. There have never been so many missing persons in this state as there were in [his] government. The name of the most powerful criminal boss Michoacán has had is Silvano Aueroles.”
With reports from El Universal