Chronicle of how a state crumbles

In the middle of the war betwen two armored groups, the state of Michoacán is falling apart.

Photography: SSP, Social Media.

Violence. Buenavista.- Before starting to tell what happened to “Francisco”, it must be clarified that he lives in a place surrounded by violence, a community far from what is known as the rule of law and where survival depends on the ability to get used to barbarism.

Needless to say, that is not his real name. This is a state where even the authorities are afraid to show their faces in press releases, those documents that assure citizens that everything is calm and that nothing happens in Michoacán.

There, where “Francisco” lives, criminal groups operate in broad daylight and, unlike their counterparts, they rarely wear ski masks because impunity is the best way to guarantee anonymity.

His house is located in Buenavista, a municipality 200 kilometers from Morelia and 500 kilometers from Mexico City but which seems to be in a different country, these are communities where the patrols are sometimes carried out by the military, sometimes by criminals and sometimes by groups. armed that do not carry any insignia that identifies them.

– Sometimes they stop young people on the way, they check them, they check their cell phones so they don’t pass on information and if they don’t find anything they let them go, “Francisco” assured

– The military? -He is asked naively.

-No, the military just come, they pass once and leave- pointing out what is obvious to them.

These are towns located 20 minutes from the municipal seat of Buenavista such as La Cuchilla, El Ahogado, La Pared del Ahogado and Pueblo Viejo, where the group that controls the area can change from one moment to another, the families have to resign themselves and adapt.

As the fighting intensified in the mountains and the shootings sounded closer and closer to their homes, “Francisco” knew that sooner or later the trucks full of armed people were going to stop in front of his house and he was right.

The arrival of Jalisco

Since 2017, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) has been a ghost that haunts the people of Michoacán, a way to justify the violence that spread between criminal groups in the area and seems to have no control.

Signs with the legends “We are the CJNG”, “Pure 4 letters in Michoacán”, “People of El Señor de Los Gallos” announced the supposed entry of a new criminal group, which recalled the incursions of other times in which the Knights Templar, Los Zetas and La Familia Michoacana were the groups feared by the citizens.

“Jalisco does not give a fuck about Michoacán,” said “Zamora”, a commander of the Michoacán Police who agreed to relate how the fight of criminal cells has kept the entity in a spiral of violence since mid-2019.

“Zamora”, in a telephone interview, assured that the cartel led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias “El Mencho” or “El Señor de los Gallos”, maintained a presence in Michoacán through his lieutenants and did not need to “fight for the spot”.

“If Jalisco wanted to get into Michoacán, it would have had to fight square by square, each town, each spot since there are many groups involved and they all control bits of the territory, they would all have to submit to Jalisco” he said.

But everything changed in November 2018, when a drug shipment disappeared in Michoacán, a shipment that was supposedly under the protection of a group from the municipality of Tepalcatepec, led by Juan José Farías Álvarez, alias “El Abuelo”, who in 2013 was founding leader of the self-defense movement in the state.

The story narrated by “Commander Zamora” goes like this: “El Abuelo” was Nemesio’s lieutenant from the days of the Milenio Cartel until a plane loaded with cocaine disappeared off the coast of Michoacán, just before reaching the warehouses that the criminal groups keep in the area.

The drug was reported to Nemesio Oseguera as missing but part of it reappeared in the market, when a group of people from Tepalcatepec tried to sell it in the city of Cancun, Quintana Roo.

The response from “El Mencho” was immediate, on March 2, 2019, a man shot and killed three people from Michoacán while they were driving along Bonampak Avenue in a truck with Campeche license plates, the driver was injured and was later arrested.

These murders in the hotel zone of Cancun would mark the starting point of the conflict between the Jalisco Cartel (CJNG) and “El Abuelo” that has submerged Michoacán in a wave of violence since mid-2019 and is now at its peak at the end of 2020.

From that moment on, two criminal groups were formed: the CJNG on the one hand and the United Cartels, a mixture of groups that were previously even antagonistic such as the Trojan Whites, Los Viagras, The Templars, The New Familia Michoacana and Cárteles Independientes also known as the Cartel of the Virgin.

“’El Abuelo’ took a piece of territory from ‘El Mencho’, its landing strips, but beyond that the issue is personal, it is like a family betrayal, having supported those who in the end kept the cargo, which were those of Los Reyes”, assured “Zamora”.

For the commander, what could have been a minor issue between “El Abuelo” and “El Mencho” ended up unleashing a conflict that spans the entire border between Colima, Michoacán and Jalisco and now reaches the municipalities of Lázaro Cárdenas, Aguililla and even Zitácuaro.

On August 13, 2019, a group of armed men in tactical uniforms bearing the “CJNG” insignia announced a war against Juan José Farías while showing off a 50 caliber Browning M2 anti-aircraft machine gun.

It was already an open confrontation between heterogeneous and antagonistic groups, a mixture of people who have been present in all the conflicts of the last 10 years in the state of Michoacán.

Both the United Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel feed on veterans who fought against the Zetas; They are also reinforced with people who participated in the conflict between the Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar, in the self-defense groups or in the G-100 and G-250 Group – at the time sponsored by the Federal Government – people, as “Commander Zamora” says accustomed to “living by shooting the fuck out of their enemies.”

Collateral damage

The day they arrived at his ranch, “Francisco” waited for the corresponding orders to be given, he narrated that he was not nervous when he saw armed men outside his ranch because he did not know that from that moment on this would no longer be his home.

The men did not introduce themselves, they barely spoke with locals such as “Francisco” and gave them the direct order: they did not want to see them around, they had to leave their homes for their “own safety”.

Since November 10, 2020, the towns of Buenavista are immersed in a fight between the United Cartels and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, both groups use this and other municipalities as a battlefield.

“Francisco” assured that they never threatened him, there were no beatings or insults, that group of armed young men with clear signs of fatigue and hunger only asked him to grab all his things and leave.

His family had no choice but to leave the war zone and take refuge with relatives in a remote house, in an unknown place from where he waits for the moment when he can return home, to take care of his crops and his cows.

In the houses they abandoned, the armed men went looking for water, shoes, clothes and food. “Francisco” said that they did not take anything of value, nor did they use the houses as strongholds, they only used them to get supplies.

The other group that previously controlled the area never bothered “Francisco” and his family. The Buenavista farmer said that, although they knew they were armed and “patrolling” the area, they only passed by, sometimes waved and sometimes bought food, but they never interfered with them.

“I never wanted to sell them anything, because if you do that others may think that you support them, but there is no money and if people sell them food, it is to survive, not to support them,” said “Francisco.”

In reality, supporting any of the armed groups can be a death sentence, countless videos on social media show beheadings, executions and mutilations for those involved in either side.

Whether for helping or not helping one group or another, the sentence is the same, so families like “Francisco’s” decide to let the groups continue their fighting and wait for one to settle down to return home.

“We are waiting for there to be security, for the fight to stop, there in the ranch we know that the government does not do anything until the shootings are over, as soon as they start to patrol the criminals hide but nobody maintains security, there is no one to control and put the order, it is reality”.

The resurgence of violence

The health emergency due to the arrival of the novel coronavirus in Michoacán was not enough to stop the conflict between the criminal groups that keep part of the state devastated, during the entire health contingency there were dozens of clashes.

The municipality of Tepalcatepec implemented its own “social distancing” measures to prevent incursions by armed groups: on November 16, 2020, they ordered the road that connects them to the Michoacán Coast to be cut with machinery.

The fear that the CJNG would enter the municipality caused that on November 20 they closed all accesses, from the dirt roads to the highways, cutting sections of road among which are the exit to jilotlán, the main access point between Jalisco and Michoacán in area.

The self-defense groups reappeared as they did for the first time in 2013, even wearing their original shirts, assuring that it is a siege by a criminal group against innocent residents. With this “El Abuelo” demonstrated his ability to mobilize residents of the entire municipality.

The first week of December 2020 saw the highest number of clashes of the year, with skirmishes in Buenavista, Coalcomán, Tingüindín, Tepalcatepec, Cotija, Tocumbo, Tlazazalca, Aguililla, Múgica, Salvador Escalante and Zitácuaro.

The shootings took place between armed groups and also included ambushes directed at members of the Michoacán Police, the National Guard and the Mexican Army, causing police and military mobilizations throughout the area.

Until Friday, December 4, 2020, burning of vehicles and roadblocks had also been reported in Aguililla, while more than 27 deaths were reported in the clashes as well as dozens of injuries among civilians, police and military in the resurgence of violence that has never completely disappeared.

In the dark

In the middle of the night, sitting in the backyard of the house, under the light of a 60-watt yellow spotlight that is invaded by mosquitoes, “Francisco” tries to tell his story without waking up his family, his gaze marks nostalgia for his words when he says he feels desolate.

“We want to go back, we want our life to be as before when they didn’t mess with us, the truth is that we don’t care who is fighting, we’re not going to get into that, what we want is to live in peace in the land where we grew up.” Said “Francisco”.

Some of the 150 families that live in this area of the Tierra Caliente in Michoacán decided to return to their homes despite the warnings given by criminal groups. They all do so with the fear that a shooting will break out or that the harassment of the armed men will increase.

“Francisco” does not want to expose his family, although he does not rule out returning alone to take care of their crops and their animals, even other villagers have planned to return all in caravans to claim their own houses, but so far no one has taken the first step.

“We want guarantees, we want security, what is seriously needed is for the government to put an outpost there, for the Army to leave soldiers there in a camp so that we can return to our homes” said “Francisco” and immediately fell silent.

He takes a few seconds to speak again and enters a soliloquy where he answers his own questions, “Francisco” says that he no longer trusts politicians or the government, nor does he believe that they will help him in his prayers.

-They are busy with their political campaigns – said “Francisco”

-Don’t you think they’ll help?

“I wish,” he said, as if he really meant no.

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