Two Towns Held Hostage by Drug Traffickers on Mexico’s Southern Border: Checkpoints, Deaths, and Control of Phones and Food

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Activists, police officers, and local journalists assert that it is impossible to enter or leave Frontera Comalapa or Chicomuselo, where a clash between the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels last Monday resulted in 11 deaths.

“Look, you can’t enter here because there are drug trafficker checkpoints before you get to the town. And if by some miracle you manage to enter, then you won’t be able to leave. At least not alive,” says a religious leader from Frontera Comalapa, a town bordering Guatemala, in the southernmost part of Mexico. When the journalist asks if he could go to a nearby town for a meeting in a safe place to talk, the religious leader, who has agreed to talk on the phone on the condition of protecting his identity, responds:

—It’s just that, look, the people who live here and manage to leave do so because they will never return.

For at least two years, on Mexico’s southern border, the towns of Frontera Comalapa and Chicomuselo, just 25 kilometers apart, have become the epicenter of the war between the two most powerful cartels in this region. These two towns, which were previously little or not talked about, have become common on newspaper front pages due to the cruelty with which the drug traffickers have punished their population and the displays of power they have made publicly. Like the drug caravan with armed men that paraded to applause on the outskirts of one of these two towns or the parade of armed and armored trucks created by the drug traffickers called “monsters.”

—Here we are in the middle of a war. Do you know what a war is like? At night the lights go out and the shooting, the bombings start. A war. That’s it— says the religious leader.

The most recent act of violence that tormented this area occurred this Monday in the ejido Nueva Morelia, Chicomuselo, where a clash between cartels left 11 dead, including two women, as confirmed by the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Chiapas.

According to local activists, just like in Frontera Comalapa, in Chicomuselo the drug traffickers have also established checkpoints at all its entrances, keeping both populations practically under siege.

“At least since 2021, the population of these towns has been in a situation of captivity. What people tell us, with whom we manage to talk, is that these criminal structures control their electricity, telephone, and even food services because by having the access roads closed, businesses are running out of food,” explains Dora Roblero, director of the Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center, known in the region as Frayba. “The Aurrera supermarket in Frontera Comalapa closed because it no longer has access to food. Therefore, the population has to look for where to find these foods. They have to do it at the times when the passage is opened, and that is when the criminal structures decide,” he adds.

Both activists and some local press reports citing residents of these municipalities claim that the drug trafficking structures have signal blockers to prevent people from using their cell phones or the internet, increasing the anxiety for those inside as well as for their relatives who have managed to escape.

Consulted by this medium, activists, members of the Federal Police, and local journalists assured that it is impossible to enter or leave Frontera Comalapa or Chicomuselo. And even less so in recent months when violence and clashes in both municipalities have intensified.

The violence in both towns is not exclusive to this region. At least since 2019, the two most powerful cartels in Mexico, the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, have been disputing the border state of Chiapas. According to information from the Ministry of Defense (Sedena), this state was controlled for at least the last decade by Sinaloa, but recently the incursion of its rival has caused clashes in which hundreds of innocents have died.

The state of Chiapas is important for organized crime in Mexico for logistical reasons. At least five land routes, two air routes, and two maritime routes of drug trafficking pass through it, according to Sedena data. Several migrant routes also pass through here, heading to the United States, whom crime sees as just another commodity.

Regarding the events that occurred this Monday in Chicomuselo, the Chiapas Prosecutor’s Office explained in a statement that the authorities carried out the removal of the bodies “performing a medical examination of them and carrying out the identification of corpses with the relatives.” It also added that “to guarantee peace in the area, investigations are being carried out, so the Interinstitutional Group is conducting patrols in the region with the purpose of establishing responsibilities.”

At the moment, it is unknown if there has been a rapid intervention by the Army and the Police. However, this strategy, repeated on previous occasions in the area, has not yielded results. “The authorities arrive and leave, there is no real interest in the people,” says Roblero from Frayba.

Meanwhile, the populations of both municipalities remain under the total control of organized crime structures. According to figures from the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI) for 2020, there were just over 80,000 inhabitants in the municipality of Frontera Comalapa and about 36,785 in Chicomuselo. Activists warn that about 6,000 inhabitants have fled these two localities in the last two years.

This scenario of violence also affects other municipalities in the border region such as Motozintla, Ocosingo, from which another 3,000 inhabitants have also fled, according to estimates by activists working in the region.

Human rights defenders working in the southern region of Chiapas assure that if the situation in Chiapas were a hospital in crisis, Chicomuselo and Comalapa would be the emergency rooms. “There are thousands and thousands of displaced people due to the dispute between the cartels. Although the government does not want to accept it, we have documented and estimate that in the last two years alone there have been about 9,000 displaced people,” says Luis Abarca, from the Digna Ochoa committee.

For its part, the State does not recognize the crisis in Chiapas nor the number of displaced people denounced by organizations. The Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, denied the number of displaced people and even said that it was “just a few.” However, the Secretary of Civil Protection of Chiapas, Luis Manuel García Moreno, accepted that at least 3,780 people have been displaced in Chicomuselo alone.

According to activist Abarca, the background of the crisis in Chicomuselo is due to the fact that there is mining activity in that municipality that is controlled and defended by MAÍZ, the armed wing of the Jalisco New Generation, while the Sinaloa Cartel wants to enter and control the territory. “It is something that is already publicly known,” he adds.

Both activists agree that the situation in these two municipalities is ignored by the State and foresee that it will continue this way. “We are in election time. Their (the rulers’) interests are different. Right now, what they are least interested in is knowing what the population is experiencing,” concludes Roblero.

Source: El Pais