Mexico’s drug war uses drones, human shields, gunships

Jalisco, Mexico’s most militarily powerful drug gang, has begun mobilizing townspeople to act as human shields against army soldiers who now try to keep rival cartels apart.

“If they try to come here again, we will kick out 2,000 people here to stop them,” said Habakuk Solorzano, a 39-year-old farmer who leads the cartel-linked civilian movement. His statement, as it turns out from the Jalisco side, isn’t the only brag: he already had about 500 local residents marching last week – then going across a river – of an army squad. To face who was blocking a dirt road leading out of the Jalisco area. ,

Residents of Aguilla are fed up with the military’s strategy to tear apart the Viagra gang based in Jalisco and Michoacan. The military’s policy effectively allows Viagra – best known for kidnapping and extorting money – to set up barriers and checkpoints that have halted all commerce with Aguilla. Limes and cattle going out, or supplying, Viagra must pay the war tax.

“We would rather be killed by you than by those criminals!” A demonstrator shouted at the soldiers, during a tense, hour-long confrontation between the protesters and a group of a dozen soldiers who took cover behind a barricade of car tires. Many protesters took stones and powerful slingshots, but did not use them.

Residents want the army to either fight both factions, or at least allow two gangs to fight.

Another protester shouted, “Let the two factions fight and kill each other.” “Jalisco is about to beat everyone!”

That approach is broad. “We need to keep a cartel under control, stop fighting and remain somewhat calm,” said a local priest. “Everything indicates that the group is a Jalisco cartel.”

Above all, residents want the Viagra checkpoints cleared and the road reopened. Because they sometimes have to go through those obstacles, none of the residents wanted to give their names for fear of reprisal.

But one explained it to the army squad this way: “The only road in Aguilla is blocked and controlled by a cartel that is only 500 yards away from you, and you (the army) are trying to protect our right to travel freely. Not doing anything. “You don’t know how hard it is to pay the war tax that is being used to kill us.”

It is actually a fairly accurate description of government policy: maintaining the status quo, and allowing each cartel to remain within its territory.

But Jalisco will not accept the government as the arbiter of drug cartel regional divisions; The local Jalisco cartel leader says the military is only trying to save the weaker Viagra of the two gangs because of corruption.

Gangs are everywhere in Jalisco Aguilla, from pickup and house armored cars to small trampolines with cartel initials set up for kids in every village.

Some residents say that too much pressure is put on them to participate in the protests, as failing to do so could cut off their water or electricity. Others battle Viagra by paying taxes and cutting off from the outside world. A female protester told how her father died in early 2020 because Viagra would not allow him to be taken to the hospital.

Dozens of cartel gunmen openly wear bulletproof vests, a reference to the group’s Spanish initials, “CJNG” – Jalisco New Generation Cartel – on the back, and “FEM” – nicknamed “Mencho Special Forces” on the front. The leader of the cartel, Nemesio Oseguera.

Jalisco is the only cartel in Mexico that does not hide what it is, and does not play with press relations or the politics of moderation.

“We are narcissists,” said the local Jalisco leader, who did not wish to be named. “Everyone should focus on their work.” Their beef with Viagra and other local gangs is that “they want everything for themselves.”

Jalisco keeps its large army of soldiers running with a potent mix of money – the cartel has a lot to do with smuggling fentanyl and meth into the United States – and cocaine, which it flies from Costa Rica.

As the local boss suddenly stands at the street-side command post, a pickup full of Jalisco gunmen with AR15 assault rifles pops up. The driver says, “Scorpion said he needs some stuff,” and the boss reaches into his truck and gives the co-pilot a plastic bag, what appears to be a one-kilogram brick of cocaine, apparently meant for “soldiers.” for.

Jalisco understands brute force; At the moment, this doesn’t bother the Aguilla residents much, as there is no need to do so. But if it suspects that a resident is actively working for or reporting Viagra, that person’s life expectancy is likely to be much shorter.

Local bosses refute the government’s claim that cartels like Jalisco are having trouble finding young recruits because of the current administration’s youth employment and training programs.

“It depends on the type of youth,” he says. “People who sleep under bridges come here and think they are in Paris. There’s food here.”

“I make it clear to my people that they come here to fight,” he adds.

Beyond food, regular pay, and unlimited drugs, the Jalisco Cartel also provides a kind of family structure to its young infantrymen. Everyone, even the local boss, refers to his immediate superior as “Apa”, the way a kid would say “Papa”.

Both cartels have developed bomb-carrying drones, and the most feared warrior in these battlefields is the “dronero” or drone operator. While initially crude and dangerous to load and operate – and still worryingly indiscriminate – drone warfare has improved, and the effects of drone explosions open metal barns or shed roofs like tin cans are unusual. Not there.

Locals also claim – although there is little evidence beyond a few potholes in the roads – that cartels are starting to use land mines.

To handle the increasing firepower in the conflict, the Mexican government has resorted to a powerful card play to take out the Jalisco cartel: The Blackhawk helicopter gunship is equipped with rotating-barrel electric machine guns that can fire 6,000 rounds per minute. .

It is a weapon that is roughly defined as “indiscriminate blanket fire” and is banned in civil conflicts in most countries. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador says this is the kind of weapon he no longer wants.

But for the time being, the only thing holding Jalisco back is such great firepower.

“They shot and burned two of our trucks,” the owner of the local gang said of the gunmen. “When soldiers arrive with helicopters, you can’t do anything, you just get out of the way.”

It is not clear if this is going to last long. Jalisco is known for two things: being the most heavily armed cartel in Mexico, and the only one that has ever shot down a military helicopter.

In 2015, Jalisco Cartel gunmen brought down a Eurocopter transport helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade, killing eight soldiers and a police officer. While the faces of Jalisco are now the Blackhawks, there is no doubt that the cartel could come off with some punctures.

The newspaper El Universal published tapes of intercepted cartel communications where a leader can be heard training a sniper with a .50-caliber rifle to fire armor-piercing rounds through a helicopter door. The Mexican military did not respond to a request for comment on this or other issues.

In the past, Jalisco has received squad machine guns, .50-caliber sniper rifles and 40 mm grenades and launchers.

The government, fearing the bloodshed that began in 2018, when the Jalisco cartel moved to neighboring Guanajuato, is now left with an impractical policy of protecting the gang’s territorial divisions and an increasingly narrow military advantage.

An unidentified army captain who tried to speak with the Aguilla demonstrators expressed their plight.

“How can it be that Mexicans are killing other Mexicans?” said the captain. “It just can’t happen.”


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