APATZINGAN, Mexico (AP) — The drug cartel violence that citizen self-defense leader Hipolito Mora gave his life fighting flared anew on Sunday, just one day after he was buried, as shootings and road blockades hit the city of Apatzingan, a regional hub in Mexico’s hot lands.
Roads in and out of Apatzingan were blocked Sunday morning by trucks and buses pulled across the road by cartel gunmen, as the vehicles’ owners stood by helplessly.
“They told me to park my truck across the road. They said if I moved it, they would burn it,” said one truck driver, who asked his name not be used for fear of reprisals.
And in the city of Apatzingan, the regional hub where the area’s agricultural products are traded, gunmen carjacked a family, took their auto at gun point and used it to shoot another driver to death just a few blocks away.
The victim’s car was left dangling from a bridge as he lay dead inside, slumped onto the passenger’s side seat.
The execution was so quick that his car continued on for a few yards, the front end climbed onto the guard rail of the bridge, and came to rest almost turned on its side.
A friend of the man said he worked at a car dealership and had gone on a pizza run for a family get-together a few moments before he died. The friend blamed the Jalisco cartel for the killing, despite the fact that Apatzingan has long been dominated by the rival Viagras cartel.
The theory is not so wild. The Jalisco cartel, from the neighboring state of the same name, has been fighting an years-long offensive to enter Michoacan. The roadblocks Sunday might have been because the Viagras gang feared such an attack.
The front lines in the battles now lie along the ill-named Rio Grande, a small river that runs about 15 miles (23 kilometers) south of Apatzingan.
Residents of Las Bateas, a riverside village, had to flee their homes about a month ago after raging gunbattles between the Jalisco cartel and the Viagras broke out in the fields outside the homes. Jalisco gunmen have crossed the river, seeking to take over territory farther north, on the southern outskirts of Apatzingan.
Residents recounted cowering behind the brick walls of their homes as bullets whizzed through the night.
The Mexican government sent in army and National Guard reinforcements, part of an unspoken, years-long policy of keeping Jalisco from advancing, while tolerating the Viagras.
Residents say they feel a bit safer now, and have largely returned to their homes, at least for now.
But the status quo is clearly unsustainable. Because of systematic extortion by the Viagras cartel, many common items in Apatzingan are far more expensive than in the rest of Mexico. A soda that costs 80 cents elsewhere costs $1.40 here. An coconut popsicle that costs 90 cents in the rest of Mexico costs $1.75 in Apatzingan.
Those price differences — and direct extortion that wrings protection payments directly from farmers, ranchers and businessmen — is slowly strangling the rich farmlands.
That is what Hipolito Mora, one of the last leaders of Mexico’s anti-gang citizens’ movement, died fighting. He was buried Saturday alongside two of his faithful followers who were killed with him Thursday. Along him died practically any hope of reviving an armed civilian resistance to drug cartels.
While some angry relatives talked of reviving the 2013-2014 armed farmers’ movement that kicked out one cartel — only to see it replaced by others — many doubted that chapter could ever be repeated.
“He looked out for his town, for his people, and that is something none of us is going to do,” his sister, Olivia Mora, said in a tearful address in front of his coffin.
“We all think first about our own families,” she said. “None of us are going to have the courage to do what he did.”