Mexico’s Deadly History of Cartel ‘Gunmen’ Killed in Confrontations

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Police in Mexico have killed 42 alleged cartel members in the most deadly drug war confrontation of recent times — and one that has yet again raised suspicions about the Mexican security forces’ excessive use of force.

On May 22, federal police surrounded a ranch in a rural area on the border between the states of Jalisco and Michoacan. Backed by a helicopter gunship, the security forces launched a three-hour assault that left 42 alleged members of the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (CJNG) and one policeman dead. Three alleged gunmen were arrested and an arsenal of weapons seized, reported Proceso.

There are already differing accounts over what happened, with witnesses and family members of the dead casting doubt on the official version. 

Police say the helicopter was fired on by assault rifles, receiving three hits. However, witnesses described a barrage of fire from the helicopters, supported by security forces on the ground, which “didn’t give them the opportunity to defend themselves much.”

Family members of the dead told La Jornada that some of the bodies showed signs of having been beaten and others had been burnt.

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Other photographs that have emerged of the scene has further fuelled suspicions, as they show bodies that appear to have been moved, or lying on the ground without clothes and shoes and with guns apparently placed across their chests.

Authorities told Milenio that the three suspects arrested at the scene said they had been recruited into the criminal group just weeks before.

The police have denied suggestions the confrontation was anything but a gun battle.

“At no moment did they decide to surrender, turn in their arms or stop firing,” Federal Police Commissioner Enrique Galindo told media, according to Proceso.

InSight Crime Analysis

This confrontation is just the latest entry in a long history of assaults by the security forces, in which the huge discrepancy in casualties on both sides has raised suspicions. As can be seen in the timeline below, cases abound in which clashes between the security forces and alleged cartel gunmen has resulted in a high number of casaulties among the cartel “aggressors.” 

The Mexican state is still handling the fallout from allegations that emerged last year that a “gun battle” — in which 22 alleged cartel members in Tlatlaya died — was little more than a mass execution.

Should similar allegations emerge from this more recent case, it will add to the growing list of security scandals undermining the state’s legitimacy in the fight against organized crime.

The assault against the alleged CJNG gunmen follow a series of highly sophisticated cartel attacks against the security forces using high-power weaponry. Whether the deaths were the result of a battle or a massacre, they are another reminder of just how militarized the conflict between the Mexican state and drug cartels has become — and how this almost inevitably leads to abuses.

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