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Nine of the 10 men missing since July 14 in Sonora. Nine of the 10 men missing in Sonora.

Tensions rise in southern Sonora as 10 Yaqui men disappear

They were last seen transporting cattle on July 14

Ten Yaqui men remain missing after disappearing last week in southern Sonora, home to one of the world’s most violent cities.

The men, members of the Yaqui community in Loma de Bacúm, were last seen on July 14 traveling on dirt roads between ranches in the municipality of Bacúm, which borders Cajeme (Ciudad Obregón), Guaymas and San Ignacio Río Muerto.

The man are aged between 27 and 65 and were transporting cattle when they disappeared, Televisa News reported. Five other men also disappeared but were subsequently released after being kidnapped.

Sonora authorities and members of a Yaqui security group are searching for those still missing.

“… We don’t know if they’re drinking water or eating, if they’re being beaten. We don’t know anything and that hurts,” said the mother of Heladio Molina Zavala, one of the missing men.

The abduction follows the recent murders of two Yaqui leaders and the deployment of soldiers and National Guard troops to the area.

“They’re trying to terrify us. They’re trying to make us afraid,” said Yaqui man and security group member Guadalupe Flores Maldonado, referring to unnamed criminal groups.

The deployment of the military to Yaqui territory angered members of the community, who claim that the federal government is planning to expropriate land and grant mining concessions to private companies. Yaqui representatives said in a statement that some soldiers were forced to leave their land by members of the community.

Flores claimed that almost 500 kilograms of methamphetamine seized by the army earlier this month in Bacúm was planted on residents.

“It’s always the same strategy. They come and plant drugs to try to accuse us and justify their repression,” he said “… The state itself promotes and protects criminals. They’re the same.”

The Yaquis have historically mistrusted authorities, and held numerous protests last year to demand that the federal government compensate them for ceding land for a range of infrastructure projects and to fulfill social development commitments.

They live in a part of southern Sonora that is notorious for violent crime. Ciudad Obregón, located about 20 kilometers southeast of Bacúm, was the fourth most violent city in the world in 2020, according to the Citizens Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, a Mexican NGO.

The city, Sonora’s second largest after Hermosillo, had a homicide rate of 101.1 per 100,000 people last year, the fourth highest in the world after Celaya, Guanajuato; Tijuana, Baja California; and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua. In the first five months of this year, Cajeme was the fourth most violent municipality in the country with 225 homicides, federal data shows.

Abel Murrieta Gutiérrez, a former Sonora attorney general who was running for mayor of Cajeme, was murdered in broad daylight in the city in May.

Later in May, Tomás Rojo Valencia, a community leader and water rights activist, disappeared and his body was found half buried in a rural area near the Yaqui town of Vícam in mid-June.

Also in June, Yaqui environmental activist Luis Urbano was shot dead in downtown Ciudad Obregón.

Sonora was home to six of the 50 most violent municipalities in Mexico between January and May of this year. In addition to Cajeme, Hermosillo, Guaymas, Nogales, Caborca and San Luis Río Colorado made a list of those municipalities presented by the federal government earlier this week.

With reports from El País, Televisa and Fronteras  

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