Mexico’s defense secretary said Wednesday that drug cartels have attacked police or soldiers with explosive-laden drones in at least three states.
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Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said the Jalisco New Generation cartel was behind some of the attacks. He said explosive drones had been used in the states of Jalisco, Guanajuato and Michoacan.
He said the drone attacks were “worrisome” but not as effective as the cartels might desire because the relative light devices cannot carry enough explosives to do significant damage. He said a drone attack this week in Michoacan wounded two police, one in the arm and one in the leg.
State police said Tuesday the two officers were treated and released from a hospital.
Authorities have not described the devices in detail. Local media reported the drones carried hand grenades, but photos have circulated of drones carrying taped packs of explosive charges.
This week’s attack occurred in El Aguaje, a hamlet in the Aguililla township in Michoacan. There, the Jalisco New Generation cartel is battling for control with the rival New Michoacan Family, which is also known as the Viagras or United Cartels.
While Sandoval said a suspect accused of operating the drone has been detained, the situation in Aguililla has clearly gotten out of control.
State police and soldiers were sent in to restore order earlier this month; the cartels responded by parking hijacked trucks across roads to block them, as well as digging deep trenches across roadways.
Perhaps more worrisome for the army was the fact that protesters in Aguililla have at times ringed the local military base, at one point forcing soldiers out.
“A few days ago, we had some situations where residents came to the base … and demanded the troops leave,” Sandoval said. “In order not to get in a confrontation, they initially left the base, and we returned the next day.”
Protesters in other parts of Mexico have been pushing around soldiers, disarming them and even briefly kidnapping them, after López Obrador ordered the army not to react in such incidents.
Sandoval suggested the protesters in Aguililla were residents demanding greater security. But other officials have described the protesters as paid lookouts for the cartels.
There appear to be both. Local priest Gilberto Vergara posted a video clip earlier this month in which unidentified men were seen ringing the army base, noting that many of the men wore hoods and weren’t from the town.
“They are people who perhaps have no choice but to obey the people who brought them here,” Vergara said.
But at the same time, some residents are legitimately protesting the road blockages that have cut them off from the outside world.
The situation came to a head April 13 when Michoacán Gov. Silvano Aureoles travelled to Aguililla with a heavily armed escort and was confronted by protesters carrying signs demanding safe transit.
“We found ourselves at a demonstration of cartel lookouts who insulted and attacked the National Guard, army and marines, as well as myself, and I decided to confront them,” Aureoles wrote in his Twitter account.
A video shows him roughly shoving one of the protesters backwards.
But Vergara wrote that those protesters were simply local residents asking for more security. With Aguililla cut off for weeks from the outside world, residents had a hard time buying supplies or getting people out for medical care.
The Jalisco cartel is also fighting turf wars in Guanajuato and its home state of Jalisco, where explosive drones have also been used. The cartel has long been known for brazenly attacking law enforcement forces. In October 2019, Jalisco cartel gunmen ambushed and killed 14 state police officers in El Aguaje.