MEXICO CITY -- At least five people were killed in a spasm of violence that shook one of Mexico’s largest states over the weekend, authorities said Monday.
Gunmen on Sunday blew up 18 electrical substations -- twice the originally reported number -- and torched six gasoline stations in Michoacan state, just west of the nation's capital. Nearly half a million people were left without electrical power for 15 hours.
During that time at least five people were killed during a gun battle at the city hall in Apatzingan, one of the state's principal cities, the state prosecutor’s office reported Monday. It said all of the dead were men in their late teens or early 20s, but it did not say what group they belonged to, if any. Authorities initially had reported no casualties.
A leader of one of the citizen self-defense squads that have sprung up in the state put the death toll at 13 and said nearly all were part of a drug-trafficking gang.
[Updated at 5:18 p.m. Oct. 28: Later Monday, the federal goverment's security affairs spokesman, Eduardo Sanchez, said three men had been arrested in connection with the attacks on the electrical installations and two additional men killed in a shootout with military forces.]
Michoacan for years has been dominated either by the Knights Templar or its predecessor, La Familia, cartels that specialize in methamphetamine exported to the United States and that have controlled many city halls and police departments. More recently, citizens have joined forces and taken up arms to form self-defense vigilante groups against the traffickers.
“The Knights Templar have governed Michoacan for some time and it doesn’t even get notice,” Michoacan Congresswoman Selene Vazquez Alatorre of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party said Monday. “But this is a grave problem because Michoacan society is under attack, paying extortion, the permanent violence … and no authority is helping.”
President Enrique Peña Nieto poured troops into Michoacan a few months ago in an effort to pacify the region, a tactic also tried by his predecessor, Felipe Calderon. However, most residents say the efforts have fallen woefully short.
Jaime Mares Camarena, the top official in Michoacan after the governor, who is from Peña Nieto’s party, refused to put blame on the Knights Templar or any other group for Sunday's violence.
“This is under investigation and right now we cannot give information,” Mares said, adding that security had been redoubled at electrical installations in the state. “Other than these incidents, everything in Michoacan is normal and tranquil.”
Try telling that to the armed self-defense groups. Hipolito Mora, one of the leaders, said people in Apatzingan were calling on them to help fight back traffickers in the city.
“With these attacks, they want to intimidate the government,” Mora said.
Sanchez is a news assistant in The Times' Mexico City bureau.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times