Dozens of land mines planted by rival drug gangs, led to the death of a Mexican soldier, as army troops have taken control of the town of Naranjo de Chila and its surroundings.
The squads have already found dozens of such devices along rural roads and fields in the surrounding municipality of Aguililla — the subject of one of Mexico’s bloody turf wars.
The first mine to explode, at the end of January, wounded six soldiers when it detonated, damaging an armored vehicle that was patrolling rural roads.
A second device killed one farmer and wounded another when it blew up a pickup truck in the town of El Callejon, also in Aguililla.
Why are cartels planting landmines?
Drug cartels are particularly keen to control Michoacan state because of its port, smuggling routes and the chance to extort money from farmers there growing crops such as avocados and limes.
The battle for the state is particularly fierce in Naranjo de Chila. The town is located in the Tierra Caliente region, where marijuana and poppy production flourished in the 1980s and 1990s.
The fight has seen cartels use quasi-military strategies — digging trenches, constructing pillboxes, and using drones modified to drop small bombs.
Planting mines is just another tactic used to lay claim to areas.
The mines that soldiers have come across so far have also included devices detonated by radio or telephone signal, or by pressure when someone steps on them.
The powerful Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG) cartel has been fighting for control of the area for years against the local Viagras gang, also known as United Cartels. Several other criminal groups are also vying for territory in the region.
Naranjo de Chila is the birthplace and former stronghold of Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes “El Mencho,” the Jalisco Cartel’s leader.
El Mencho is now considered the most-wanted drug trafficker for both the Mexican and US authorities, with a $10 million (€8.8 million) reward being offered for his capture.
Although the last population survey for Naranjo de Chila recorded more than 500 inhabitants, recent estimates reveal that there are now fewer than 200 people living there.
The last two years have seen an exodus of families to the northern border of Mexico, looking for humanitarian aid and possible refuge in the United States.