MEXICO CITY -- Activists from Mexico’s violence-plagued western state of Michoacan said Tuesday that the government has to fight all drug cartels equally and return land to an estimated 35,000 people displaced by fighting.
“In terms of safety, we are worse than ever,” said Hipolito Mora, a founder and former leader of the 2013-2014 vigilante self-defense movement that kicked the Knights Templar cartel out of Michoacan.
But the cartels are back, with the Jalisco cartel fighting the local Viagras gang for control of the state. The battle has featured heavy weaponry and the use of bomb-dropping drones. The government response has been to hold off incursions by the Jalisco cartel, while doing little to stop the other gangs.
Mora said a group of activists met with senior government officials Tuesday and told them that “they have to fight all the cartels, not just one.” They also demanded that authorities take into account the advice and opinions of Michoacan residents in framing a new strategy, he said.
Rev. Gregorio López, a Catholic priest once known for wearing a flak vest while celebrating Mass, said drug cartels now essentially control parts of the state.
“There are regions where the government frankly can't go, regions ... where organized crime has total control," he said.
López said thatat least 35,000 people have been forced to flee their homes and farms in recent years and that the government should return their land and reimburse their losses.
The priest said the warring drug cartels extort money from almost all merchandise passing through Michoacan.
“All the suppliers get charged. They have to pay protection money on the outskirts of the city. There are little plastic tables and some guy there charging,” said López, who frequently transports food and supplies for displaced people.
“I was carrying a load of ground corn, powder, and I had to pay 200 pesos ($10) to get them to let my truck through. If not, they would burn it,” he said of a recent experience.
Michoacan's armed civilian “self defense” vigilante movement lasted from 2013 to 2014, but many vigilante forces were later infiltrated by the cartels.