An increase in drone strikes in parts of Mexico’s southwestern state of Guerrero has seen hundreds of residents driven from their homes, with an alliance between two major criminal groups blamed for the rise in this tactic.
Multiple drone attacks destroyed homes and forced the displacement of some 600 people from the town of Nuevo Poblado el Caracol in early May, according to a press release from the Center for the Rights of Violence Victims Minerva Bello (CDVVMB - Centro de Derechos de las Víctimas de la Violencia Minerva Bello). Other nearby towns along the Atoyac River had been attacked with drones the week before, reported Guerrero newspaper El Sur.
Residents who gathered at the Nuevo Balsas police station, about 30 kilometers away from Nuevo Poblado el Caracol, blamed the attack on the Familia Michoacana, a criminal group based in the neighboring state of Michoacán.
SEE ALSO: Tepalcatepec, Mexico: A Staging Ground for Drone Warfare
Towns along the Atoyac River are valuable real estate for criminal groups for drug trafficking purposes, a spokesperson from the CDVVMB told InSight Crime. The Atoyac River runs through Guerrero to the port of Lázaro Cardenas in Michoacán, which the Familia Michoacana controls.
The area is known for the cultivation of marijuana and poppy, used to make heroin, and has recently seen small-scale attempts at planting coca leaf. Criminal groups have frequently attempted to relocate entire towns located along drug trafficking routes to eliminate witnesses and obstacles, the spokesperson explained.
This latest round of attacks by the Familia Michoacana aims to force residents to abandon towns where community-led self-defense groups have sought to resist the group’s expansion, they added.
The increase in drone strikes by the Familia Michoacana has coincided with its alliance with the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG), a larger criminal group that pioneered the use of drone strikes in the country.
InSight Crime Analysis
The rapid adaptation of drone attacks by the Familia Michoacana after their alliance with the CJNG showcases how it could be increasingly easy for criminal groups to carry out these kinds of mass displacements in the future.
The use of drones is a tactic “adopted from the CJNG, who provide [the Familia Michoacana] with increasingly sophisticated and quieter drones to carry out explosive attacks,” Carlos Arrieta, an investigative journalist based in Michoacán, told InSight Crime.
SEE ALSO: 3 Takeaways From the Return of the Familia Michoacana
Indeed, authorities in a town near Nuevo Balsas claimed to have shot down a highly sophisticated drone, allegedly equipped with a thermal camera able to detect humans and modified to remotely release explosives.
For the CJNG, arming the Familia Michoacana with drones secures control over previously contested territory essential for drug trafficking as long as their alliance remains intact, said Arrieta. Still, recent confrontations between the groups in Michoacán demonstrate the fragility of these criminal pacts in the long term.