SAN MIGUEL TOTOLAPAN, GUERRERO ― Freddy Palacios, the secretary in the mayor’s office in this small Guerrero village, wishes he could forget the violence that descended upon the town early last month.
“It was one of the most difficult times I’ve ever had in my life,” Palacios told the US media two weeks after a drug gang raided the town, killing 20 people, including the mayor and other city leaders.
“I don’t want to remember such a tremendous episode. We had a tense time. It lasted 10 to 15 minutes, no more than that,” Palacios said, “but those minutes marked the lives of those of us who are here now.”
On Oct. 5, the armed gang opened fire inside San Miguel Totolapan’s city hall and at a house two blocks away, where local officials were having a meeting.
Mayor Conrado Mendoza and his father, former mayor Juan Mendoza Acosta, were among the dead, government officials reported.
Mendoza’s death underscores the dangers of holding public office in areas of Mexico wracked by drug cartel-related violence.
According to data from Mexican consulting firm Etellekt Consultores, 60 local officials, including 18 mayors, have been assassinated since President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office in 2018.
The state of Guerrero is in the Tierra Caliente region, an area dominated by organized crime. It is crucial in the drug trafficking business because of its proximity to the Lazaro Cardenas port just over the Guerrero border in Michoacán, making it a key region for moving the precursor chemicals needed for drug manufacturing.
“This region has been very conflictive …,” Mexico-based security analyst David Saucedo said. “There has been a dispute over territory (there) for over 20 years.”
Saucedo estimates 14 criminal groups operate in Tierra Caliente.
“They’re dedicated to planting poppies to harvest opium gum, manufacturing heroin, extortion and kidnapping,” Saucedo said.
Following the attack in San Miguel Totolapan, two versions assigning responsibility for the killings began circulating. The common link between the two versions is the rivalry between a gang known as Los Tequileros and La Familia Michoacana cartel.
“This activity occurred in the context of a dispute between criminal gangs,” said Mexico’s assistant secretary of public safety, Ricardo Mejia.
Later, the state’s prosecutor’s office said its investigation showed about 40 people carried out the attacks and used weaponry reserved for the military.
A blacksmith in San Miguel Totolapan who gave his name only as Santos and was a witness to the massacre said of the gunfire: “We hadn’t heard that sound for a long time. Almost 10 years, I would say, we’ve been oblivious to that sound.”
But now, he believes, “… It won’t be long until they come again, who knows against whom.”