Mexico: Vigilantes and Narcos in Hostage Swap

The ongoing regional war in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state between narco gangs and the anti-narco “community police” militia movement resulted in a hostage stand-off that was finally resolved with the mediation of government authorities last week. The affair is further indication of how the government has lost effective control of the rural areas of the state to the narcos and their vigilante enemies.

The affair began Dec. 10, when a popular community police leader known as “The Engineer” was abducted by a drug gang in the town of San Miguel Totolapan. The militia group retaliated by abducting the mother of local kingpin Raybel Jacobo de Almonte AKA “El Tequilero”—along with some 20 members of his gang, Los Tequileros. The militiamen released a haunting video message of the kingpin’s mother pleading with her son to release The Engineer in exchange for her own freedom. The video went viral on Mexican social media. . 

The swap was arranged by Guerrero authorities, who brought in a helicopter to evacuate the 20 hostages. Four were arrested by state police upon their release, accused of links to the narco gang. The Engineer’s supporters were on the scene, shouting insults at El Tequilero’s mom as she was released. As The Engineer walked into the waiting arms of his tearful family, his supporters chanted: “¡El pueblo unido jamás será vencido!” (The people united will never be defeated!).

But to say that the area remains tense would be an understatement. Saturday saw an ambush of a mixed patrol of Mexican army and state police who were searching for El Tequilero in San Antonio La Gavia, one of San Miguel Totolapan’s outlying mountain hamlets. One solider and one state trooper received bullet wounds before the assailants escaped.

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