Mexican drug cartels: 'We were trapped for five days in their crossfire'
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Several gun battles between heavily armed men took place over several days at the end of May in Parácuaro, a small town in western Mexico. Images since posted on social media captured the violence of these clashes, which terrorised residents, as one Observer told France 24.
Parácuaro is located in Michoacán, which is considered one of the most violent states in Mexico. According to the Secretary of the Interior, 1,277 assassinations were recorded there in 2017 and more than 400 have been recorded since the beginning of 2018. These numbers are probably low, according to the NGO "Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal" [Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice].
Most of the violence stems from the fact that two rival drug cartels have been fighting over control of the territory. There are also internal conflicts within these criminal organisations.
Large amounts of drugs are moved through Michoacán, especially via one of the country's main ports, Lázaro Cárdenas. This leads to violent clashes, which are happening with increasing regularity, like the gunfights that occurred in Parácuaro between May 27 and 31.
"When the gunfights begin, you lose track of time”
A resident of Parácuaro told France 24 about these five days of violence. He prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons.
On Saturday, May 26, people started saying that there were armed men just outside of town and that they wanted to enter. But those were just rumours and we didn’t really believe them – we often hear such things.
"A stray bullet injured a child in his house”
But then clashes broke out at dawn on Sunday, May 27 on the outskirts of town. A stray bullet injured a child in his house. Then, they started shooting in one of the main streets in town, where there was some kind of car chase, according to residents.
Two armed men went into a woman’s home and climbed on her roof. From there, they exchanged gunfire with other men. I think they were shooting at each other for three or four hours.
Then, Michoacán state police arrived [Editor’s note: Along with federal police].
In this video from May 27, you can hear numerous gunshots.
Another video filmed on May 27.
These photos circulated online after the clashes on May 27. The images show cars riddled with bullet holes and cartridges littering the ground.
On Monday, May 28, there were more rumours that the clashes would start up again. Even so, people tried to get on with normal life. Businesses were open, for example.
But the gunshots started up again around noon on Tuesday, May 29 near the main square. This time, they lasted around 40 minutes. But it was much more dangerous because lots of people were outside then, unlike on Sunday. Many of them ran to take shelter in different buildings, which were then closed.
Clashes also occurred late in the evening of Thursday, May 31. People were at home. I would say that it lasted about fifteen minutes, but it was very intense. There was another car chase. We could hear them screeching to a halt and then starting up again at top speed. Then, we heard the bangs.
A video filmed on May 31, with audible gunshots.
"When you hear cars driving around at top speed in the middle of the night, it is stressful”
During these five days of violence, we felt especially exposed at night.
Anyone can enter town easily under the cover of darkness, so there is a heightened risk of clashes. Starting on May 27, agents of the state and federal police came to patrol our town. But they came in the morning and left again at night, leaving the town without protection.
Even if we do have a municipal police force, the officers are poorly trained and don’t have the weapons to rival those of the organised gangs.
So, at night, we avoid going out and everyone is tense. When you hear cars driving around at top speed in the middle of the night, it’s really stressful. It takes hours to get to sleep.
"Some of the holes created by the bullets are large enough to put your hand through”
When the clashes break out, it is so intense that you lose track of time. The only thing that matters is finding a safe place in your house to avoid being hit with a stray bullet. There’s a lot of risk because homes here are very open, since we live in a hot climate.
I think that they were using very powerful weapons because they made a lot of noise and the bullet holes they left were impressive. Some of the holes were big enough to put your hand through.
A car riddled with bullet holes (This photo was shared by residents)
Another car hit by multiple bullets.
This violence is exhausting because we have the feeling that we are never safe, no matter what time of day it is. The fear has paralysed the city. People aren’t circulating, schools are closed and the children are staying at home, without really knowing what is going on.
The situation has become calmer because state and federal police are in town now. But we are afraid that the violence will start again once they leave. The Church even intervened to ask them to stay.
According to this resident and local media, there hasn’t been this level of violence in Michoacán since 2014. That year, clashes broke out between the Knights Templar cartel and self-defence groups that were supported by Los Viagras cartel and the authorities.
There are frequent clashes in Mexico between rival cartels and/or the cartels and security forces.
This article was written by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).