Mexican security officials claimed on Tuesday, July 11th, that a demonstration that blocked the main highway to the resort of Acapulco and led to the abduction of government officials was organized by a drug gang.
They also said that a National Guard officer had been killed by a car bomb set by a cartel in an earlier attack elsewhere.
The violence suggested that Mexico’s crime problem continues to be dire, despite President Andrés Manuel López Obrador exaggerating how much he has reduced the number of homicides since taking office in December 2018.
Security Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez credited López Obrador on Tuesday for a 17.5% decline in the number of homicides. In fact, about 11% of the decline happened in the final months of his predecessor’s term. In the 4 1/2 years López Obrador has been in office, homicides have edged down by only about 7%, but remain at historically high levels.
Rodríguez acknowledged that a demonstration Monday by hundreds of people in the southern city of Chilpancingo was organized by the Los Ardillos drug gang. She said the protest was aimed at forcing the government to release two detained gang leaders who have been charged with drug and weapons possession.
The demonstrators largely blocked all traffic on the highway between Mexico City and Acapulco for two days, battled security forces and commandeered a police armored truck, and used it to ram down the gates of the state legislature building.
Rodríguez said the demonstrators had abducted 10 members of the state police and National Guard, as well as three state and federal officials, and were holding them hostage to enforce their demands.
“A lot of these people were forced to demonstrate,” Rodríguez said, vowing not to use force to dissolve the protest. Rodríguez claimed the Ardillos gang even had two spokesmen, one of whom owned a construction company that got public works contracts.
Later, the government of the state of Guerrero, where Chilpancingo is located, said that a deal had been reached with protesters to free the kidnapped officials and officers, and return the stolen police armored truck.
The state government also said demonstrators had agreed to allow traffic to flow once again along the four-lane highway.
At his morning press briefing, López Obrador said gangs in Mexico had a habit of organizing front groups and protests.
“This is a practice by some criminal groups, they create social movements to support them,” López Obrador said. He urged Mexicans “not to let themselves be manipulated by the leaders of these gangs.”
He acknowledged that the nearly two-day highway blockade represented a problem for motorists. “We have to suffer a bit,” he said.
The demonstrators were also demanding road construction programs and other public works in the mountainous, impoverished region. The government agreed to build or refurbish several roads on the outskirts of Chilpancingo in return for the release of the officials.
The agreement showed the federal and state governments were open to negotiating with groups they had publicly identified as working for drug gangs.
And it also suggests the government is willing to leave the underlying situation unchanged: persistent drug gang violence and control in Chilpancingo. Over the weekend, four taxi drivers were shot to death, and at least one of their cars set on fire, in and around Chilpancingo, the state capital of Guerrero.
And in late June, pieces of seven dismembered bodies were left on a downtown street in Chilpancingo, along with a threatening message attributed to the Ardillos gang. The gang appears to be using the killings to pressure the city’s mayor, who later acknowledged she had met — but not negotiated with — gang leaders.
Also on Tuesday, Luis Rodriguez Bucio, the assistant security secretary, acknowledged that a car bomb that exploded in the cartel-dominated Mexican city of Celaya, to the north, on June 28, had killed a National Guard officer.
The Guard had confirmed an explosion and injuries at the time, but never mentioned deaths.
Rodriguez Bucio said the car bomb had been set by the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, which has been fighting a bloody turf war for control of the north-central state of Guanajuato for years.
National Guard officers were reportedly responding to a report about a car parked with what appeared to be bodies inside. As they approached, the vehicle exploded, sending officers flying.
The use of a car bomb to intentionally cause law enforcement casualties marks an escalation of the infighting between rival cartels and is reminiscent of a 2010 car bomb blast that killed three people in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez at the height of the 2006-2012 drug war.