Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Friday, April 23, 2021

Between Bullets and the Gaze of the CJNG: The Visit of the Vatican's Representative to Aguililla, Michoacán

"Morogris" for Borderland Beat

The Vatican's representative in Mexico, Franco Coppola, walked through the streets of Aguililla, Michoacan. The town's residents received him with a large celebration as he greeted families and walked to celebrate mass in downtown Aguililla (see video).

It's Friday in Aguililla, one of the most dangerous municipalities in Michoacán. Vatican pontifical diplomat Franco Coppola parks his car between houses riddled with bullets. He gets out of the car and walks down a dead, dirty, and dark street.

For years, Coppola has walked and interacted with Mexico's criminal underworld. He walks with his Bible and reaches territories that not even the police can reach.

The purpose of these visits is always the same: to uproot young people from drug trafficking and fill a void left by the authorities in regions ravaged by insecurity.

In Aguililla, many people are Catholic, but the faith of the faithful competes with the weapons, drugs, and power of organized crime. In the middle of the road where Coppola walks, a vehicle with the insignia of the CJNG (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación) transits by.

In previous days, alleged members of the CJNG launched explosive drones against state police. But Coppola goes on, walks, and enters. None of the men armed with rifles and tactical equipment seem to want to hear the word of God.

For 18 months, violence in the region has worsened without the authorities intuiting its size. The community bleeds to death with the worsening of armed confrontations and the serious economic crisis. Gas, water, and road connections are cut off by criminals.

This week, the diocese of Apatzingán, presided over by Cristóbal Ascencio García and of which Aguililla is a member, announced Coppola's visit.

The priests have been the main support of the inhabitants in the Tierra Caliente region (where Aguililla is) and in the mountains of Michoacán. These communities are in the middle of the crossfire. The nuncio's visit not only provides moral support, but also accentuates the absence of Mexican authorities who have abandoned thousands of Michoacan residents to their fate.

The fight in Aguililla is long overdue. The CJNG, whose presence has been identified in at least 23 states across Mexico, fights territories with criminal groups and remnants of La Familia Michoacan, the Knights Templar Cartel, and Los Viagras. When these groups were overwhelmed, they chose to unite forces and formed the criminal group known as Cárteles Unidos (CU).

In October 2019 in Aguililla, cartel members ambushed and killed at least 14 police officers. As reported by Borderland Beat, the attack was carried out by the CJNG.

A wake up call for Mexican bishops

Coppola has chastised the country’s bishops for being estranged from the faithful.

In an interview with the newspaper Milenio, Elio Masferrer, an anthropologist and religious expert in Mexico City, said that Coppola “read the riot act” to bishops at a recent meeting of Catholic Church leaders. Coppola told them that their administration of the church has become a disaster, Masferrer said.

The papal nuncio gave the bishops “a pull on their ears,” telling them that it’s not their job to be “comfortably seated” in their offices, he said.

Masferrer also said that Coppola has openly told Mexican bishops that they do nothing for the Catholic community. He recalled that Pope Francis also criticized Mexican bishops for being more concerned with worldly matters than their diocesan communities.

Masferrer said that Catholic Church in Mexico needs to commit itself more to the nation’s millions of believers and those who suffer the most. He advised church leaders to follow in the footsteps of Salvador Rangel, bishop of the Chilapa-Chilpancingo diocese in Guerrero, who is well known for facilitating dialogue and seeking truces between feuding narcos.

'We are trapped here'. A Mexican town isolated by terror

The town of Aguililla made news this month when eight headless bodies were dumped there. Three weeks later, it is at war. Hardly anybody enters or leaves — at least not without the permission of rival gangs that have blocked the roads.

In telephone interviews and in social media postings, trapped residents described a community living in terror of armed thugs who stroll the streets and shoot at one another. Some shops remain open, residents said, but the food supply is dwindling and there is no access to hospitals.

“If the groups want to keep fighting among themselves, that’s their problem," said Father Gilberto Vergara, the parish priest. "But this situation is suffocating us.”

The priest has publicly called on the gangs to let townsfolk travel to the nearest city — Apatzingán, a two-hour drive northeast — for food, medical care and gasoline, and to be able to sell their produce and cattle.

A convoy of vehicles from the Mexican Army patrol during the visit of Monsignor Franco Coppola in Aguililla community, state of Michoacan, Mexico on Friday. (ENRIQUE CASTRO / AFP / Getty Images)

At the root of the mayhem is a struggle for control of a large segment of the narcotics trade in strife-ridden Michoacán state, and a government that has been powerless to prevent cartels from taking over large swaths of the nation.

In recent years, Aguililla, population 15,000, branched out from tomato farming, cattle ranching and marijuana cultivation to become a strategic hub for the manufacture of methamphetamine bound for the booming U.S. market.

Authorities say that dozens of illicit production facilities scattered in the nearby countryside process precursor chemical smuggled from Asia into the Pacific port of Lázaro Cárdenas, 175 miles to the southeast.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of residents have fled the violence, some to the United States but many more to other parts of Mexico.

“I worked in Aguililla all my life. I have plots of tomatoes, corn, chile … But we had to leave it all behind out of fear,” said Victor Arnoldo Aguaje, 68, who left last June with 14 relatives for Uruapan, the second-largest city in Michoacán.

“In Aguililla, one lives with a constant fear that you may be killed or kidnapped at any moment,” he said.

The conflict demonstrates how gangs have infiltrated regional governance in much of Mexico. Authorities blame two cartels for the turmoil.

One, the CU, is a confederation of various mobs, including La Familia Michoacana, the Knights Templars and Los Viagras, that U.S. prosecutors say was led by Adalberto Fructoso Comparán Rodríguez, 57, a former mayor of Aguililla.

He was arrested in Guatemala last month at U.S. behest for his alleged part in a scheme to smuggle more than 1,100 pounds of Mexican methamphetamine into Florida hidden inside concrete tiles and dissolved in five-gallon buckets of house paint.

The competing group is the CJNG, one of Mexico’s largest syndicates, known for its expansionist bent and lurid social media displays of armored vehicles and military-grade weaponry.

Its leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes — who is called El Mencho and once peddled heroin in bars in San Francisco — is wanted in both Mexico and the United States. He is reportedly a native of Aguililla.

Many in Aguililla are calling on the Mexican government to intervene.

"Of course we want the military to come and fight the criminals," Maribel López, 53, a nurse, said by telephone.

"Is it too much to ask that they at least open up the roads to Apatzingán?" Her diabetic aunt died a few weeks ago because the roadblocks prevented relatives from getting her to the hospital, López said. 

There is a widespread belief in Aguililla that security services and the military collaborate with the cartels. Footage on social media showed townsfolk jeering Mexican national guard units as they retreated from the town.

A bullet-riddled walls bears the initials of Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) at the entrance of the community of Aguililla, Mexico. (Enrique Castro / AFP / Getty Images)

A Mexican military base of 200 soldiers is situated in Aguililla, its troops re-supplied by helicopter, but forces have avoided direct conflict with the warring gangsters.

A Pentagon official recently estimated that cartels control about one-third of Mexican territory. President Andres Manuel López Obrador disputed that figure at a recent news conference but declined to provide his own.

For more than a decade, Mexico waged a “war on drugs” that led to tens of thousands of deaths but did little to weaken organized crime — an approach that López Obrador abandoned in favor of avoiding direct conflict while providing economic opportunities for poor youth to keep them out of gangs

But the strife in Aguililla is severely testing his strategy in the run-up the national mid-term elections in June.

“The approach of the current administration to insecurity, to the whole armed conflict, has been silence,” said Falko Ernst, a senior analyst in Mexico with the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit that researches conflict. “Their political calculation is that it’s better not to talk about it.”

López Obrador has defended his decision to hold back from a military assault on Aguililla.

“If we take towns and use force, invade with police, with soldiers, well that will lead to nothing good,” López Obrador told reporters this month . “We have to call to everyone for serenity, for tranquility, to look for peace. No to violence.”

In 2019, 14 state police officers were killed in an apparent cartel ambush in Aguililla. This past week state police dispatched to Aguililla were attacked by at least one cartel drone armed with explosives. Authorities said two officers suffered minor injuries.

The president backed dialogue in hopes of resolving the situation there. But Silvano Aureoles, the governor of Michoacán, said that a solution was elusive without the deployment of federal forces.

“One can dialogue with communities in conflict, with social groups, but to dialogue with criminals is another matter," Aureoles told Mexico's Milenio news outlet.

Not that his own efforts have fared any better.

The governor flew into Aguililla in a military helicopter last week in a much-hyped display to show that security had improved.

Accompanied by heavily armed body-guards, he was met by several protesters in the town's central square who hoisted handwritten signs demanding that authorities restore the peace and open the roads.

"I want to live free in my pueblo," read one placard.

“The people don’t believe in the government — we have no security or tranquility,” said Fernando Padilla, 43, a teacher in Aguililla, who brought his 10-year-old son to the protest.

“The government comes here to make a ‘show,’ says the situation is tranquil, but it’s not true. … We are at the mercy of the criminals, we are trapped here. This is not a life.”

Video footage from the scene showed the governor approaching the protesters and shoving Padilla as security guards grabbed two of the protesters’ signs.

After the shove went viral on social media, the governor asserted on Facebook that he had been confronted by hostile cartel “lookouts.”

Padilla, who has been a teacher for 20 years in Aguililla, denied any links to drug traffickers.

The governor’s characterization of the protesters as mob lookouts, he said, had put their lives in further danger. He said his salary was suspended after the incident — a move he viewed as retaliation for his protest — but was later restored when he complained to local press.

Ominously, Padilla said, armed men have been passing by his house.

“One doesn’t know anymore if this is normal or whether these delinquents are coming for me," he said. "The people of Aguililla are stuck in a living hell, trapped and governed by criminality.”

Sources: Infobae; Milenio; MND; LAT


  1. Keep up the good work with these inspiring articles.
    For many in poorer communities options are dwindling.

    1. Inspiring what, the church covered up the many crimes of their beloved marcial maciel and let him move around doing even worse, and ot did not start or end there, religious corruption has never fixed anything in mexico, au contraire.

  2. From the last part of the article it sounds like the government is the mob is the gov't. Criticise the gov't and you are silenced by a mob hit. Criticise the mob and the gov't will take you out for making the gov't look bad, not in control, if the mob doesn't take you out first.

    1. Vicious circle. As long as the drug war / prohibition continues ...

    2. You got it right friend

    3. and even was a problem before the drug war occurred was announced in early 2000. It’s just gotten worse.

    4. 5:44 corruption became the standard when the PRIISTAS robbed Lazaro Cardenas Steel Works and sold it for peanuts to themselves inspired by Arcelor-Mittal "buyers" payoffs...
      The British hard at work again stealing all they can from México in cahoots with their associated colonizers, Mittal has been stealing steelworks all over the world after organizing their bankruptcy through theft, then corruption and crime spreads around like a pandemic.

  3. Great read. some people like to take sides and cheer for one cartel or another. but the loss of human life (whether it be humble residents or sicarios) is a sad loss. it reflects a broken system. i wish Mexico the best of luck in getting through this and more.

    1. Wishing the best for Mexico hasn't come without reprisals. Decades of political influence and corruption are the heart of Mexico's casualties.

    2. 7:55 you're right, report for your prison sentence, we miss El Muletas...

  4. the man is right though. most of the Catholic church has ABANDONED Mexico's marginalized communities. its a very sad situation. they rather stay in their nice homes and get those steady "limosnas".

    1. The Catholic church also wants bribes, they're jealous they are missing the action.

    2. The church is afraid to stand up the Cartels,

  5. Off topic, but has anyone confirmed if CJNG did in fact kill LFMN Guerrero boss El Pez Johnny Hurtado? I noticed it wasn't covered on the main page. Was BB waiting for more confirmation? I've seen the short clip of him supposedly being burned alive and there's no way to tell who the subject is. I'd of thought if it were really El Pez him being such a big fish (no pun intended) CJNG would have left zero doubt who was responsible similar to how they clipped El Cholo with the public display then interrogation videos to leave zero doubt. Still having nightmares after reading the cholo autopsy report, its some of gnarliest reading I've ever come across, not just cutting out his tongue but instead pulling it until it ripped from his face while still alive.

    1. Not confirmed. Just a publicity display by his rivals. Or someone from social media trying to get more views and making up the damn story.

    2. 6:53 PM That wasn't him from what people have said he is dying of kidney failure. His brother La Fresa asked CJNG for a cease fire and a non agression pact. They left Carteles Unidos and became neutral. The peace treaty only involves the FM from Guerrero. Not the one in Michoacan and Mexico State.

    3. El Paz is not confirmed dead but he hasn’t said anything himself cause I’m sure he wants the government to think he’s dead like what happened with el chayo his former boss

    4. 7:17 & 7:30 TY for the info. Two more quick questions about the Hurtados. Is it true El Pez was gunning hard for Acapulco at one point? Lastly, I noticed LA Fresa listed as one of the most wanted criminals in Tamaulipis state of all places back maybe 2 years ago. Any idea why? Did Fresa have an unknown alliance with one or more of the CDG factions? El Fresa is pic #6 but literally everyone else is from Tamp. Here's the link

    5. Any idea why La Fresa would on the list of Tamaulipis most wanted? This was couple years back about the time Los Metros CDG boss El Toro got clipped. Just wondering if La Fresa had a Tamp connection? He was the only narco not from the state and if I remember is listed as #6 perp and only La Fresa, El pez didn't make the list.

      Lastly, is it true El Pez had made a serious attempt at the takeover of the mess that is Acapulco? Is it still old BLO/Barbie/CIDA remnants that control that city? Or is it another Mencho plaza?

    6. 7:02 As of today, no big city can be considered a "Mencho plaza".

    7. 7:02 the one that got caught was another fresa, he was head of i think tampico, fresa is a common nickname in mexico

    8. As of TODAY no CARTEL has a city THAT THEY gully CONTROL, EVERY CARTEL shares the cities in EVERY STATE..
      CDS had DURANGO but NOW are fighting each OTHER so it DOESN'T COUNT..
      MAYO fighting CHAPITOS just MAKES cds weaker.. Just SAYING..

    9. Y did they ambush them cops then?

  6. Seems more like a PR stunt to me. That's all this is. Good things don't seem to happen like this in Mexico. Behind the scenes there's always an agenda.

  7. Catholic CHURCH was used to keep the INDIGENOUS people of 🇲🇽 DUMB and Rob THEIR GOLD.. There is a CHURCH in practically EVERY corner of michoacan THEY also have a TUNNEL SYSTEM most likely used to TRANSPORT the GOLD these PEOPLE gave them EVERY week
    I COULD SEE the priest in CHURCH SAYING
    "GOLD is BAD, if YOU die with GOLD and you DIE rich you WILL go to HELL" 😆
    IT'S 😥 to know 🇲🇽 is STILL being manipulated by these EVIL Catholic kid RAPPING priests..
    🇲🇽 is the place with MORE Catholics, even more THAN 🇪🇸.. Sad
    THOSE SICK priest like IT when you kiss their hand and ACT like they are GOD SMH

    1. Organized religion is much like government. Only much more far-reaching.

    2. 💯 7:31 8:55 yes but loosing more & more believers every day.

  8. Aguililla again. Such a small place. The Mexican gov't is incompetent, it's say on the take. Mencho's home


    MX CJNG didn't launch the explosive laden drones at the State Police It was the frightened chickens United that belong to the viagras/tepekes/Revueltas templarios/ they launched those drones. This video explains what is taken place. Carteles Unidos are angry El Capitan Salinas who was based in Aguillila and had a personal beef with CJNG because they shot him in the leg was transferred to Coalcoman no more Sedena backing they are angry the state police isn't fighting CJNG like they use to from 2018, 2019, 2020.

    The state police places a check point in El Aguaje so the viagras can't come up while they are repairing the road and to provide protection to the inhabitants of El Aguaje. The Tepekes/Viagras are still in La Bocanda so they launch the drone from there. Their is countless evidence that they have explisve laden drones Grillonautas has an excellent video on them.

    The Chocomiles or Carteles Unidos lost Coalcoman Misael Gonzalez and his group of bandits got booted out of the town. The ones who took over allied with CJNG they have personal beef with the Tepekes.

  10. In Nam we had to Helo supplies in out in the jungle. This is 2021 and the Mexican army has to Helo supplies in their base. I think there is something wrong with this picture. Come on Amlo help these people


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