Drug gang kills 20 in attack on city hall in southern Mexico

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SAN MIGUEL TOTOLAPAN, Mexico — A drug gang shot dead 20 people, including a mayor and his father, in the mountains of southern Mexico’s Guerrero state. The officials announced on Thursday.

Residents began burying the victims, although video posted to social media showed men identifying as the Tequileros gang claiming responsibility for the mass shooting.

Guerrero’s State Security Council said gunmen broke into the town hall of the village of San Miguel Totolapan on Wednesday and opened fire on a meeting the mayor was holding with other officials.

Among the dead were Mayor Conrado Mendoza and his father, Juan Mendoza Acosta, a former mayor of the city. Most of the other victims were believed to be local officials.

The walls of the town hall, which were surrounded by children’s rides at the time, were riddled with bullets. Totolapan is a geographically large but sparsely populated mountain community in a region known as Tierra Caliente, one of Mexico’s most conflict-ridden areas.

There were so many casualties that a backhoe was brought to the city’s cemetery to dig graves as residents began burying their dead on Thursday. By noon, two bodies were already buried and 10 more empty pits were waiting.

A procession of about 100 residents, singing hymns, solemnly walked behind a truck carrying the coffin of a man killed in the shooting. As they approached the cemetery, several men lifted the coffin from the truck and took it to the waiting grave. Dozens of soldiers were stationed at the entrance to the city.

Ricardo Mejia, Mexico’s deputy secretary of state for public safety, said the tequileros are fighting the Familia Michoacana gang in the region and the authenticity of the video is being verified.

“This act occurred in connection with a dispute between criminal gangs,” Mejia said. “A group called the tequileros ruled the region for some time; It was a group that mainly smuggled and distributed opium, but was also involved in kidnappings, extortions and several murders in the area.”

For years, Totolapan was controlled by drug gang boss Raybel Jacobo de Almonte, known by his nickname “El Tequilero”, “The Tequila Drinker”.

In his only known public appearance, de Alamonte was caught on video drinking with Elder Mendoza, the city’s mayor at the time, in 2015. It was not clear if Elder Mendoza was there voluntarily or had been forced to attend the meeting.

In this video, de Alamonte appeared so drunk that he was mumbling under his breath and had to be held in a seated position by one of his henchmen.

In 2016, Totolapan locals were so fed up with the tequilero kidnappings that they kidnapped the gang leader’s mother to secure the release of others.

While tequileros had long depended on the opium paste trade from local poppy farmers, increasing use of the synthetic opioid fentanyl had reduced demand for opium paste and lowered the level of violence in Guerrero.

Also on Wednesday, a state legislator was shot dead in the city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City, in the neighboring state of Morelos.

Two gunmen riding a motorbike shot and killed State MP Gabriela Marín as she got out of a vehicle in front of a pharmacy. One person was reportedly injured with Marín in the attack.

“Based on the information we have, we cannot rule out a motive related to politics,” Mejia said of the murder. “The deceased, Gabriela Marín, had just taken office as legislator in July following the death of another member of the legislature and a series of legal battles over the seat.”

Mendoza’s assassination has brought the number of mayors killed during President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s tenure to 18 and the number of state lawmakers to eight, according to Etellekt Consultores data.

Mexico’s Congress is debating this week the president’s proposal to extend the military’s policing duties until 2028. Last month lawmakers approved López Obrador’s push to place the supposedly civilian National Guard under military control.

While attacks on officials are not uncommon in Mexico, they come at a time when López Obrador’s security strategy is being hotly debated. The President has given the armed forces, rather than the civilian police, an enormous responsibility to curb Mexico’s persistently high levels of violence. He vowed to keep going, saying, “We have to keep doing the same things because it has yielded results.”

López Obrador tried to blame previous governments for Mexico’s ongoing problem of violence.

“These are (criminal) organizations that have been around for a long time that did not emerge in this government,” said López Obrador. He also accused local people in the Tierra Caliente region of supporting the gangs — and sometimes even voting them into office.

“There are still communities that protect these groups and even vote them into office as authorities,” the president said.

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