Gunmen allegedly affiliated with a drug gang have killed 20 people, including a mayor, in an attack in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, local officials said.
According to security officials, gunmen burst into a meeting between the mayor and city officials on Wednesday in the town of San Miguel Totolapan and left the building riddled with bullet holes.
“This act occurred in the context of a dispute between criminal gangs,” Ricardo Mejia, Mexico’s assistant secretary of public safety, said on Thursday.
The town has had a history of disputes between criminal organisations, and Mejia said a group known as the Tequileros have been locked in a dispute with the Familia Michoacana gang.
“The Tequileros dominated the region for some time,” Mejia said. “It was a group that mainly smuggled and distributed opium but also engaged in kidnapping, extortion and several killings in the region.”
Widespread violence has left President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador struggling to establish security. He’s resorted to methods that include the use of the Mexican military for a wide range of duties.
In a post on social media on Wednesday, men claiming to be members of the Tequileros gang claimed responsibility for the attack. Mejia said the video’s authenticity was still being verified.
Among those killed in the attack were Mayor Conrado Mendoza and his father, Juan Mendoza Acosta, a former mayor.
The elder Mendoza appeared in a video drinking alcohol with the boss of the Tequilero gang when he was mayor in 2015 although it was unclear if he was meeting with him voluntarily or under threat.
Most of the other victims in Wednesday’s attack are also believed to be local officials.
The killing of Mendoza brought to 18 the number of mayors slain during Lopez Obrador’s administration, according to data from Etellekt Consultores. Eight state lawmakers have been killed.
Lopez Obrador has defended his reliance on the military, including for public safety responsibilities that would usually fall to the civilian police force.
Lopez Obrador was criticised by civil society and human rights groups last month for giving the military control over the civilian National Guard.
Journalists and environmental activists have been targeted by the violence in Mexico and have chastised the president for what his critics see as a lacklustre commitment to protecting such groups.
More than 1,700 land-defence advocates have been killed in Mexico in the past decade, and at least 15 media workers have been killed so far this year.
Mexico has said US firearms manufacturers are partly to blame for a flood of weapons that have been smuggled into Mexico and contributed to the violence across the country.
In a lawsuit filed against US gun manufacturers, Mexico had claimed that more than two percent of the nearly 40 million guns made each year in the US are smuggled into Mexico.
In the lawsuit, Mexico said that in 2019, about 17,000 homicides in Mexico were connected to firearms smuggled from the US.
A US judge dismissed the $10bn lawsuit on September 30, saying that while “the court has considerable sympathy for the people of Mexico and none whatsoever for those who traffic guns to Mexican criminal organizations”, US law shields gun manufacturers from lawsuits based on crimes carried out with those guns.
Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard announced in a speech to the Mexican Senate on Wednesday that Mexico would file a new lawsuit.
“You have to start establishing criminal responsibilities because the companies that are selling these weapons in these counties [in Arizona], which are very few, of course they know where those weapons are going,” Ebrard said.