Indigenous communities are up in arms in Michoacán, Mexico, after a series of murders and disappearances have been connected to the Jalisco Cartel New Generation’s attempts to increase its control of illegal mining.   

Members of the Nahua Indigenous community have blockaded a major highway and stopped operations at an iron mine since January 21, demanding authorities do more to find two local residents who recently disappeared.

Authorities reported that an environmental activist and a social leader had gone missing in the municipality of Aquila in Michoacán on January 15. And on January 13, three Nahua community guards from the town of Santa María de Ostula, five kilometers south of Aquila, were killed at a road checkpoint.

The Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) was rapidly blamed. In a lengthy Facebook post, the Nahua community explained how the CJNG was muscling into Santa María de Ostula and Aquila as well as claiming responsibility for the killings in videos posted online.

In the same statement, the community also denounced a total lack of government support to confront organized crime in the area and claimed security forces had persecuted and disarmed Indigenous guards.

On January 6, CJNG members reportedly entered Aquila and tried to reach the municipal town hall before being repelled after a lengthy shootout with locals, according to residents who spoke to Mexican newspaper El Universal. Homemade explosives containing C4 were also found in the town and blamed on the gang.

SEE ALSO: Funeral Massacre Latest Example of Extreme Violence Causing Michoacán Exodus

The state of Michoacán contains significant reserves of gold, silver, iron, lead, and zinc. Violence has flared as the CJNG has fought against a local group, known as the Cárteles Unidos (United Cartels – CU), for control of illegal mining and drug trafficking routes through the state.

These conflicts also come at a time of legal dispute between local communities and Ternium over alleged non-payment of royalties. Relatives of the two missing men have even accused the mining company of being involved in their disappearance. In a statement, Ternium expressed its solidarity with the families of those affected and offered any help that might be needed.

InSight Crime Analysis

The relationship between organized crime and illegal mining in this part of Michoacán dates back over a decade when cartels such as the Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar began exploiting natural resources there.

According to the Nahua Facebook post, its community recorded 34 deaths and nine disappearances between 2009 and 2014 during the fight between the Knights Templar and the government.

The illegal extraction of iron reached a peak in 2014, when authorities seized 119,000 tons of the metal at the nearby port of Lázaro Cárdenas that was set to be sent to China.

SEE ALSO: David vs. Goliath – The Family Clan Defying CJNG in Michoacán, Mexico

But in December 2022, InSight Crime traveled to Aquila and neighboring towns to assess local organized crime dynamics. According to interviews with various members of different self-defense groups along Michoacán’s Pacific coast, there are many illegal mines across the towns of Aquila, Coahuayana, and Lázaro Cárdenas. Interviewees added that these mines are largely controlled by the CJNG and remaining members of the Knights Templar.

Those interviewed suspected that the extracted iron was sent to China by criminal groups in exchange for precursor chemicals used to make synthetic drugs. While no evidence of this exchange was provided, the theory is credible. Such chemicals are regularly seized at the port of Lázaro Cárdenas, and the CJNG is among the criminal groups trafficking synthetic drugs to the United States.

These ongoing attacks on local communities suggest that the struggle to dominate Michoacán’s lucrative mining resources is far from over. The Indigenous communities who oppose the cartels will continue to suffer.

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