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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Narco landmines explode into Mexico’s hybrid conflict

I travel to the hot land of Michoacán, an epicenter of the cartel war

By Ioan Grillo, Reporting in COALCOMAN, Mexico with photos by Erik Camargo
This article reposted with permission from journalist and author Ioan Grillo. Ioan has recently created a substack where you find his original reporting on drugs, crime, and politics. Follow his excellent work here!

A road running through the west of Michoacán state parallel to neighboring Jalisco is a physical testament to the hybrid armed violence that scars Mexico. The highway is blighted by gaping cavities because gangsters from the town of Tepalcatepec ripped it up in the fall to slow the advance of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. A signpost that welcomes you to the municipality of Coalcomán, “Land of Beautiful Women and Noble Men,” is filled with bullet holes. Makeshift barricades of sandbags and tires perch on strategic curves. The acronym of the Jalisco mob, “CJNG,” daubs a brick building, claiming territory.

And in a new escalation, headlines have been made by the explosions of homemade landmines on the dirt trails crisscrossing the road. On Jan. 31, Mexican soldiers in an armored vehicle triggered an ammonium nitrate device, injuring four and putting the driver in hospital with serious spine injuries. On Feb. 12, a farmer perished detonating another. A third blew up some cows. In total, the army claims to have deactivated the stunning figure of 250 mines this month, some of which could be triggered by touch and others by cellphone signal.

For over a decade, Mexico’s cartels have wielded 50-caliber rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, improvised armored vehicles (called “monsters”), car bombs (though thankfully small ones) and more recently drones with explosives. But the country was at least free of the landmines that haunt other conflict zones, including Colombia. Landmines are a tragic addition as they kill and maim the innocent and can remain hidden for years.

I drove down this frontline road with two local journalists surveying the latest phase of the weird conflict in Michoacán, which is a major producer of crystal meth and an epicenter of the tragic but confounding bloodshed across Mexico. In 2006, Michoacán was the site of one of the first mass beheadings when thugs rolled five heads onto a disco dance floor. It was in Michoacán that President Felipe Calderon launched his military crackdown on cartels that year, after which murder rates shot up across the country and have remained sky-high since. Michoacán was also home to a huge force of “auto defensas” or vigilante squads, who protested extortion and cartel abuses and advanced across the state building trenches from 2013 to 2014.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador is now widely derided for his call for “abrazos no balazos” or “hugs not bullets,” which he made when he ran for office and promised he would “end the war.” But while he has ordered security forces to back off in some states, most infamously in Sinaloa after the arrest of Ovidio Guzmán in 2019, he signed a decree ordering the military to stay in the fight against crime until the last year of his presidency in 2024.

Here in the west of Michoacán, we encountered a huge concentration of troops including special forces and helicopters, along with National Guard and state police, constituting one of biggest deployments I have seen in all the decade-and-a-half military offensive. This latest surge comes as an ally of the president, Alfredo Ramírez, has become Michoacán governor and appointed a general as head of public security.

But Michoacán also illustrates the strangely nuanced nature of cartel warfare in Mexico. State capital Morelia remains a thriving city with colonial plazas and high class restaurants. Over in Uruapan, a heart of the avocado region, the gangsters currently operate in a largely clandestine way as they shake down the growers of green gold. When a U.S. plant safety inspector was recently threatened in Michoacán, causing a suspension of avocado imports, it was by telephone. (Although, there is still more we need to learn about that spat).

Things look weirder when you pass Apatzingán into the lime-growing region, another source of extortion for the cartels. Makeshift barricades dot the roads, set up by the “auto defensas,” which some nickname “narco defensas” because they are so infiltrated by gangsters. Amid the army surge, most barricades we saw had been abandoned, or were at least strategically unmanned. But we were stopped by an extremely suspicious “police force,” in which the officers were dressed in casual jeans and one had a Kalashnikov, which is illegal for Mexican security forces.

The exact details of the cartel war in Michoacán are murky as always. The accepted wisdom is that the Jalisco mob is trying to take over the state led by boss El Mencho (Nemesio Oseguera) who is originally from the Michoacán town of Aguililla. (There is also an unconfirmed rumor that Mencho has died). The CJNG faces resistance from an alliance of local mobsters, known as “Cartels United,” whose most powerful faction is the finely-named Viagras.

The army claims in its press statements that its surge is to “liberate the…principal routes in the region” and “reestablish transability and social peace.” But the old problem in the drug war is that when you attack one cartel you often help another, whether you have been paid to or not. The CJNG put out messages accusing the state forces of supporting Cartels United, and saying it was a “Murderous government,” to justify its attacks on soldiers, whether with the landmines or bullets.

The situation is also complicated by the fact that many towns in Michoacán are really controlled by local caciques, or strongmen, who can flip from one side to the other. Tepalcatepec is considered the domain of El Abuelo (Juan José Farias), who headed an auto defensa group, has been arrested various times and is reported as switching between different cartels over the last two decades. Other municipalities deeper in Michoacán are said to be run by bosses loyal to El Mencho, confusing the battle lines.

Despite the landmines, the army surge may be effective at keeping the CJNG at bay for the moment. But Mexico’s armed forces often struggle to maintain such operations – as well as committing severe human rights abuses. Another worry is that in Mexico’s drug war, new forms of violence have a horrible habit of finding new homes. Narco landmines are only in Michoacán today. But there are a dozen other states with cartel conflict where they could find themselves tomorrow.

Source: Ioan Grillo


  1. Strange he didn't mention the cartels are comprised of homos! As that is what all the cartels continually remind viewers on every video release!

    1. Little Nuts Flame Thurther IQ 10

    2. Big Nuts has the assbergers or mentally slow como 5 years old so not his fault for low iq bro. He is trying so be nice to him

  2. What took those shit-for-brains so long to start mining their own country? I won't be this startled again until they start making their snuff vids of nothing but children. Only a matter of time I'm afraid. Nothing's too low for any them- cjng cds etc

    1. Hey hey hey
      Fat Albert
      Where have you been?
      Little nuts truther
      Is asking for your IQ

    2. I monitored the Islamic atrocities of the "ISIS" warriors era and numbers of their video included children as victims and as killers...So, your point has a good measure of possibility of happening.
      Si, amigo, history* shows that children are capable of heinous murdering behaviors.
      * Africa, Islam, Mexico (i.e. El Ponchis and his cohorts).
      Mexico Watcher

    3. 12:07
      Orale vato loco
      Viva Chicano rocko
      Incarcerated Lives Matter.

  3. So to sum it up, this guy is pretty much saying everything I have mentioned in my previous comments, minus my opening sentence, "Michoacanos worst enemy is another Michoacano" the author isn't lying. I wonder if he'll be accused of being a sinarata for pointing out the facts.

  4. Good work.
    I enjoyed this story.

    The main problem is the government that has no control of the "beast"..
    The cartels have got out of control and presidents and governors just look the other way because they get millions of dollars 💸..

    There is a corrido that talks about LA bestia and it talks about what I just mentioned..
    It was famous about 10 years back I can't remember the name or the singer though

    1. I don't think the president and the governor are looking the other way. It's like you said, the beast has gotten out of control. Calderon started the war on drugs in Michoacan and how well did that go? You still have the same players and then some. Peña nieto allowed self defense groups and what happened with that? It allowed for the criminals to infiltrate these self defense groups and now it's harder to distinguish the cartel members from the auto defensas. The government is taking action but it's hard. It's like gag birthday candles, as soon as the government blows out the candles they start right back up.

    2. 9:25 What you fail to understand is the government attack a cartel but work with onother to weaken it and make that cartel STRONGER..
      It's cartel 101..
      Calderon went after la familia michoacana and zetas but didn't touch CDS or CJNG (wich were working together at the time)

      Government taking action?
      Hahaha ha you are too naive and TOO GULLIBLE 🤣

  5. Uh oh. Repurposing the ammonium nitrate.


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