03/09/22 (written by jcarrillo) – On February 8th, the Mexican Army made its way into the municipality of Aguililla, in the state of Michoacán for the first time since being controlled by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG). Around 1,075 soldiers were sent into the municipality due to the existence of organized crime and cartel rivalry. The National Defense Secretariat (Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) reported the use of these soldiers, with the assistance from the National Guard and Michoacán State Police in entering the towns of Naranjo de Chila, in the municipality of Aguililla and San Jose de Chila, in the municipality of Apatzingán. The soldiers dismantled a civilian blockade against a small army base within Aguililla that had been blocking its entrance since the previous summer. Further, the National Guard and Michoacán State Police were able to clear the routes from Aguililla to El Aguaje, El Aguaje to Los Cajones to El Limón, and Coalcomán to Aguililla (Milenio).
Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación battle with local Viagras gang
While the Mexican Army made its way into Michoacán, soldiers reported being attacked by residents in a town called Lomas Blancas and in other towns in the western part of Michoacán. While the Mexican army patrolled the town and surrounding villages, they were attacked with explosives and gunfire, leaving ten soldiers wounded. At least six protesters along with nine suspected cartel members were arrested. Towns such as Lomas Blancas have long been dominated by the CJNG, who have now pressured the residents to join protests in favor of the cartel. These attacks prompted the army to accuse the residents of “acting as a social base” for the cartel as they attempted to further establish themselves in Michoacán and combat the locally-based cartel, Viagras (Al Jazeera). Despite being harassed by the Jalisco-based cartel, residents found themselves in these protests expressing their anger against government policy they feel is favoring the Viagras cartel. Since the government and its military power have focused on the CJNG by attempting to prevent any further gain of territory, residents feel a blind eye has been turned to the Viagras cartel. The Viagras cartel continues to extort money through roadblocks and imposing taxes on imports and exports from the state. The protesters were demanding soldiers open these roads and to be equal in their aggressions towards each cartel. Michoacán residents are wanting more than the army’s current strategy of preventing the CJNG from gaining further territory as well as separating the rival cartels. The protest organizer and Aguililla resident, José Francisco Helizondo, said the locals were simply reacting “with fear, with distrust, thinking that things could happen like they did two years ago and now the United cartels will enter along with the government to take reprisals against the people” (Associated Press).
The Jalisco-based cartel and the local Viagras cartel have been in a power struggle to control Aguililla. In 2015, the Viagras cartel joined forces with the Familia Michoacana, Knights Templar, and White Trojans to form a group called United Cartels (“Cárteles Unidos”) to combat the CJNG. Since its formation, the United Cartels have been fighting against the CJNG to maintain control over certain drug trafficking routes and control over local economies such as avocado production. Recently, in the struggle for power, both sides have been using landmines and drones against each other, fostering a volatile environment. According to the BBC News, within the past few weeks, two landmines have injured soldiers and taken the life of a local farmer along with wounding the farmer’s son. In an effort to get rid of these landmines, special squads of the Mexican Army have been stationed in Michoacán to locate the planted landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). These mines can be detonated by radio or phone signal, by pressure such as being stepped on, or vials that have been broken combining two chemicals (Associated Press). A few days prior to the Mexican army rolling into Aguililla, an IED was used against a Mexican military target and according to the Washington Post, was the first successful IED used against a military target in Mexico. However, the Mexican government has refrained from commenting on the use of IEDs and has only said army patrols were attacked multiple times.
The use of drones by cartels
In addition to planting landmines, these cartels have been in the practice of utilizing drones to launch attacks such as dropping bombs. Cartels like the CJNG have been using drones for other purposes such as surveillance and monitoring police or rival movement. These drones have been utilized to transport drugs as well. According to El País, these drones used by cartels are commercial drones that can be purchased by anyone and are turned into weapons used to deploy bombs. According to Cecilia Farfán Méndez, head of security at the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies at the University of California, San Diego, the use of drones has presented a challenge to Mexican armed forces with the population thinking “organized crime groups have more firepower than the Mexican armed forces”. Moreover, the use of drones is perceived as an indicator of power and status. Speaking on the CJNG and their use of drones, Chris Dalby, the managing editor of InSight Crime, shares “the Jalisco cartel has a very good understanding of the effectiveness of marketing […] they can be a very effective weapon of intimidation”. The attractiveness of the device has caught the attention of cartels and has morphed to fit the many needs from beyond being a weapon.
Aside from landmines and IEDs, cartels have been utilizing pillboxes, trenches and armored cars as ways to fight for control of Michoacán. However, the development of landmines and drones has proven to be more effective since they tend to have more of a surprise element. Mexican law enforcement stated the use of landmines was inspired from groups such as al-Qaeda and the Taliban. More specifically, according to Robert Almonte, a Texas-based security consultant, the CJNG is the first to use drones that have explosives, with the explosives being metal pipes filled with gunpowder that are attached to a battery and a detonator. The Viagras cartel and its members in United Cartels and the CJNG continue to use landmines and drones to threaten each other.
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