A total of 19 people were murdered in the past few hours in Uruapan, a city in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, in a fight linked to an ongoing turf war being waged by rival drug cartels, state officials said Thursday.
The victims - 16 men and three women - were shot and their bodies showed signs of torture, Michoacan Attorney General Adrian Lopez Solis said in a press conference.
Some of the bodies were dismembered and others left hanging off a bridge, the AG said.
The main industry in Uruapan is growing avocados for export to the United States, Europe and Asia.
Authorities initially said that 16 bodies had been found in the city, but three more bodies were discovered as investigators searched the area.
The bodies were dumped at three locations along Boulevard Industrial, one of the main avenues in Uruapan, the second-largest city in Michoacan, Lopez Solis said.
The Michoacan Attorney General’s Office said it was investigating the possibility that the killings were linked to the turf war being waged by the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), Caballeros Templarios and Nueva Familia Michoacana organizations.
The Nueva Familia Michoacana drug cartel employs a team of hitmen known as Los Viagras.
Los Viagras was created in 2013 after criminals infiltrated community self-defense groups battling the Caballeros Templarios cartel.
In 2015, Los Viagras took control of the illegal drug trade in the Tierra Caliente, a region straddling Michoacan, Guerrero and Mexico states.
The three criminal organizations have been fighting for control of drug production and trafficking, kidnapping, auto theft and extortion rackets in the region.
Organized-crime groups have been targeting the avocado industry, kidnapping business owners and running extortion rackets to squeeze money out of them.
Officers from different law enforcement agencies and army troops were deployed in Uruapan after the killings to search for cartel safe houses and other buildings where drug traffickers may be hiding.
In June, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration ordered the deployment of the newly created National Guard in Michoacan in an effort to contain the wave of violence in the western state.
Uruapan, like many other cities in Michoacan, has been plagued by drug-related violence for more than a decade.
On Sept. 6, 2006, hitmen on the payroll of the Familia Michoacana cartel tossed the heads of five men on the dance floor at the Sol y Sombra bar in Uruapan along with a message threatening a rival gang.
The incident is considered the event that unleashed the wave of violence in the region.
The Caballeros Templarios cartel was created in 2010 by former Familia Michoacana members.
In the first half of 2019, a total of 17,138 murders, or 95.2 killings per day, were registered in Mexico, a figure that was up 7.2 percent from the same period last year.
In 2018, 33,369 murders were recorded in Mexico, making it the most violent year since 1997. EFE