AGUILILLA, MICHOACAN, Mexico (AP) — The Mexican government is rapidly running out of tools to control the expansion of the feared Jalisco cartel on the front lines of Mexico’s narco war in the western state of Michoacan and the stalled ground effort is being supplemented by an increasingly sophisticated aerial conflict.
Jalisco, Mexico’s most militarily powerful drug gang, has begun organizing townspeople to act as human shields against army troops, which now just try to keep rival cartels apart.
“If they try to come in here again, we’ll put 2,000 people out here to stop them,” said Habacuc Solorzano, a 39-year-old farmer who leads the civilian movement associated with the cartel. His statement, like most of what comes out of the Jalisco side, is not mere boasting: He already had about 500 local residents marching last week— then wading across a river — to confront an army squad blocking a dirt road leading out of Jalisco territory.
Residents of Aguililla are fed up with the army’s strategy of simply separating the Jalisco and the Michoacan-based Viagras gang. The army policy effectively allows the Viagras — best known for kidnapping and extorting money — to set up roadblocks and checkpoints that have choked off all commerce with Aguililla. Limes and cattle heading out, or supplies heading in, must pay a war tax to the Viagras.
“We’d rather be killed by you than killed by those criminals!” one demonstrator shouted at soldiers during a tense, hour-long confrontation between demonstrators and a squad of a dozen troops who took cover behind a barricade of car tires. Many of the demonstrators carried rocks and powerful slingshots but did not use them.
The residents want the army to either fight both cartels or at least let the two gangs battle.
“Let the two cartels fight it out and kill each other,” another demonstrator shouted. “Jalisco is going to beat everybody!”
That view is widespread. “What we need is for one cartel to take control, stop the fighting and impose some semblance of calm,” said a local priest. “Everything indicates that group is the CJNG cartel.”