Without the bodies, the exact number of people executed in broad daylight at a funeral in Mexico's western state of Michoacán remains unclear, but such episodes of extreme violence are contributing to widespread forced displacement in the area.
The footage of mourners being lined up against a wall before being shot dead in a hail of gunfire has shocked the nation and been the subject of much speculation, particularly since police did not arrive at the scene in the San José de Gracia municipality until five hours after the shooting, by which time the gunmen had removed the dead bodies from the area and cleaned the blood from the walls and street, according to Michoacán State Attorney General Adrián Solís López.
Officials said in a news release that the killings, which occurred February 27, were allegedly part of a violent feud between Alejandro, alias "El Pelón," and Abel, alias "El Toro," two members of the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG), according to the Mexican government.
Both men had a checkered history of association with multiple criminal groups, and the pair clashed for several years, with Abel eventually banning his former friend from San Jose de Gracia. According to local media, Alejandro had requested "permission" to return to their hometown for his mother's funeral when the massacre occurred.
This is but the latest display of extreme violence contributing to a climate of insecurity that has forced hundreds of thousands to flee Michoacán in recent years. The state is enviable criminal real estate due to being part of drug trafficking routes, especially of synthetic drugs. It is also home to poppy cultivation for heroin, illegal logging and the increasingly lucrative control of the avocado industry.
The resulting war between the CJNG and locally entrenched groups such as Cárteles Unidos has led to some of Mexico's most shocking acts of violence.
In 2021, Michoacán was the country's third most violent state, recording 2,732 homicides, according to official government data. Michoacán has become one of the focal points of Mexico's forced displacement crisis. From 2010 to 2021, over 400,000 people have reportedly fled their homes in Michoacán, according to Mexican media reports.
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Forced displacements in Mexico are often overlooked due to the constant barrage of gory reports, such as massacres at funerals and weddings, or bodies hanging from bridges. Yet in states like Michoacán, unprecedented numbers of Mexicans are abandoning their homes after living in constant terror.
In 2021, forced displacements in Mexico as a whole jumped a staggering 360 percent from 2020. By year's end, almost 45,000 people had fled their homes, with more than 10,000 abandoning their communities in the month of August alone, according to data from the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights (Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos – CMDPDH). In 2020, the number of people displaced stood at 9,740.
According to information from the State Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Estatal de los Derechos Humanos – CEDH) in Michoacán, almost 5,000 people fled from just five of the state's 113 municipalities in a five-month period in 2021. Put into perspective, five towns accounted for half as many displacements as all of Mexico in 2020.
In recent years, the majority of Mexico's internally displaced came from the states of Guerrero (3,952), Chiapas (2,056), Oaxaca (1,328) and Michoacán (1,049), according to CMDPDH data. These displacements were driven primarily by violence generated by armed groups, followed by political violence and social and territorial conflicts.
In an interview with El Economista, Édgar Záyago Lau, director of development studies at the Autonomous University of Zacatecas, broke down how the geographic location of states like Michoacán, the upsurge in cartel violence and historic levels of poverty and marginalization have made abandoning their homes an increasingly viable option for many Mexicans.