Apatzingan, Michoacan – Four severed heads were found Wednesday at the feet of an emblematic statue of former Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas in the western city of Apatzingan, sources in the Michoacan state Attorney General’s Office told Efe.
Left along with the heads was a disposable cooler stained with blood and scrawled messages from organized crime groups.
One of the messages was signed “La Resistencia,” the name of a gang thought to be linked to La Familia, a criminal organization that dominates the illegal drug trade in Michoacan.
The heads had bandages across the eyes and belonged to men in their mid-to-late-20s.
A search of the area around the statue failed to turn up the rest of the victims’ bodies.
The gruesome discovery in Apaztingan followed news of the deaths of 31 people in drug-related violence in northern and central Mexico.
The most serious incident occurred in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where at least 18 people died Tuesday in clashes between army troops and gunmen, as well as in shootouts involving rival gangs.
Five people died in Valadeces, a town on the border with Texas, in a shootout between rival gunmen, the Tamaulipas state information office, known as the CIO, said.
A fire truck and an ambulance were torched during the shootout, while the town’s police station was sprayed with gunfire.
Three bystanders were wounded during a shootout in the city of Diaz Ordaz, officials said.
A shootout between soldiers and gunmen in Reynosa, also on the Texas border, left six civilians dead, but the CIO did not say whether they were members of the drug cartels that are fighting for control of Tamaulipas.
A clash between army troops and gunmen left three dead in the border city of Rio Bravo, while three young men were gunned down in the Isleta Perez neighborhood of the Gulf city of Tampico, the CIO said.
Violence has intensified in Tamaulipas and neighboring Nuevo Leon state since the appearance last month in Monterrey of giant banners heralding an alliance of the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia drug cartels against Los Zetas, a band of Mexican special forces deserters turned hired guns.
After several years as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
The cartels arrayed against Los Zetas blame the group’s involvement in kidnapping, armed robbery and extortion for discrediting “true drug traffickers” in the eyes of ordinary Mexicans inclined to tolerate the illicit trade as long as the gangs stuck to their own unwritten rule against harming innocents.
Shootouts among rival drug cartels and the security forces’ operations against the gangs have claimed nearly 19,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon took office.
Vowing to crush the cartels, Calderon has deployed 50,000 soldiers and 20,000 Federal Police officers in the country’s most crime-plagued areas, yet the pace of drug-related killings has only accelerated, surging from 2,700 people in 2007 to 7,724 fatalities last year.
The 2010 death toll, according to a tally kept by the Mexico City daily El Universal, is nearly 2,500.