Associated Press reporter based in Mexico, Mark Stevenson describes the harsh reality of the situation in the area of Aguililla, Michoacan; one of the most dangerous regions in the country right now, and it is well known that there is a cartel war going on down there.
The Mexican army has largely stopped fighting drug cartels here, instead of ordering soldiers to guard the dividing lines between gang territories so they won’t invade each other’s turf — and turn a blind eye to the cartels’ illegal activities just a few hundred yards away.
At the first roadblock, set up by the Viagras gang that has long dominated the state of Michoacan, a truck stands parked across the highway with stacked sandbags to protect themselves from cartel gunmen.
Every few hours, the gunmen roll back the truck to allow farmers through, but they interrogate each passing driver about how many crates of limes — the area’s most valuable product — or heads of cattle are being transported to market. The answers are written down in a book.
Local farmers say the Viagras are charging about $150 for each truckload of limes. They weigh and charge separately for each head of cattle. Further north, avocado growers are subject to similar protection payments on every box of fruit they ship.
“Be careful about what you publish,” the leader of the Viagras roadblock told journalists passing through. “I can monitor you on Facebook, and I’ll find you.”
About 3 kilometers (2 miles) down the same road, one formally enters another cartel’s territory, marked by squads of armed men and pickups and primitive homemade armored trucks bearing the letters “CJNG,” Spanish initials for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
Between them stand the soldiers, doing very little at all.