A growing wave of paramilitary terror has been reported from the remote and rugged Sierra Tarahumara in northern Mexico’s Chihuahua state—the country’s prime opium and cannabis cultivation zone. Last Friday, local residents in the hamlet of El Largo Maderal, in the backwoods of Madera municipality, issued an urgent alert to the authorities and media over ongoing attacks by narco-gunmen, leaving at least two campesinos dead over the past weeks. The Chihuahua state prosecutor, or Fiscalía General, meanwhile reported a highway attack at nearby Rancho Las Pomas, where a local narco-jefe identified only as “El Nacho” was killed along with two henchmen—their car shot up and then set aflame.
Mexican daily Excélsior is one of the few media outlets that has been covering the killings in the Sierra Tarahumara, which it has dubbed the country’s new “homicide capital.” This is a dubious honor that just a few years ago went to Ciudad Juárez, the border town that lies along the Río Grande, north of the Sierra.
But over the past three years, the Sinaloa Cartel (known locally as the Pacific Cartel) has won control of this key entry-port from the old Juárez Cartel, led by the Carrillo Fuentes family. Remnants of the Juárez machine are apparently now trying to fend off Sinaloa incursions into the production zones of Sierra—with the local peasantry caught in the middle, as always. What was reported internationally as good news—a diminishing body count in Ciudad Juárez—actually meant the violence was being pushed into the mountains, where it is nearly invisible to the outside world.
The Excélsior account names Madero, Guadalupe y Calvo and Chínipas as the most affected municipalities, with campesinos being forced to sell to rival gangs under pain of death. But playing ball with one gang leaves them vulnerable to reprisals from the paramilitary enforcers of the other—all just a few hours drive from the Texas border.