A Catholic bishop in Guerrero is encouraging the government to open dialogue with organized crime groups as part of a strategy to reduce violence.
Salvador Rangel, the bishop of the Chilpancingo-Chilapa Diocese in Guerrero, told Grupo Fórmula that a decline in opium poppy production in Guerrero is an opportunity to work toward peace.
“Now, people aren’t planting poppies, and we should take advantage of the moment to bring peace . . .” he said. “[The farmers] are leaving to go to the big cities or to the United States, and a lot of the leaders of community police don’t have work anymore.”
Declining prices for illicit opium because of competition from synthetic drugs like fentanyl has pushed many Guerrero farmers to stop planting opium poppies over the past few years. According to Rangel, the price of a kilo of opium has fallen from a peak of 40,000 pesos (US $2,000) two years ago to as low as 3,500 pesos.
However, the decline of the illegal drug economy has not been accompanied by falling rates of violence, as drug trafficking groups turn to other crimes like extortion to make up for lost profits.
Earlier this week, Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero announced that the government will begin negotiations with “armed groups” in several parts of the country, but later clarified that she was referring to self-defense groups, not organized crime.
However, Bishop Rangel said that while he supports dialogue with self-defense groups, the government should also start conversations with “other armed groups,” a theme he has expressed many times in the past.
“I’ve always said that we need to have dialogue, dialogue is a great tool to understand others, because if we each stay in our corners and do not cede, peace will slip out of our hands,” he said. “The government needs to open itself up to listen, listening is a great thing. And not just with community groups, but with others too.”
Rangel mentioned that he had met with Santiago “El Carrete” Mazari Hernández, the leader of Los Rojos, one of the most powerful gangs in Guerrero and Morelos, before he was arrested earlier this month.