In an apparent counterattack against a government attack in the making, coordinated guerrilla-style attacks sowed chaos at the beginning of Mexico’s three-day holiday weekend in celebration of International Workers’ Day.
Commencing in the state of Jalisco, home to the important city of Guadalajara (Mexico’s second largest metro area) and the international resort of Puerto Vallarta, the attacks spread to the neighboring states of Guanajuato, Colima and Michoacan.
Early on May 1, dozens of highway blockades, burnings of gas stations, attacks on banks and big stores, and the shoot-down of a Mexican Air Force helicopter sucker-punched western Mexico.
As the holiday break was just getting underway, bus service was suspended between Morelia, Michoacan, and Guadalajara and Colima. By recommendation of the Colima state government, the eight candidates for governor suspended their political activities.
Most of the attacks were registered in 25 municipalities across the big state of Jalisco, including the main highways and roads in and around Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta. The Mexican press reported the preliminary casualties as consisting of 7 dead, 19 injured and 19 detained. The toll likely would have been higher if the violence had occurred on a normal business day.
Quickly, the U.S. Consulate issued a warning advising U.S. nationals, who enjoy a large presence in Jalisco as either tourists or expatriates, to avoid travel in the affected area.
Some initial reports, including one on NPR, hastily reported that the violence was the work of the New Generation Jalisco Cartel in response to the Friday morning detention of their leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, or “El Mencho.”
While the capo’s arrest was not confirmed, the Mexican government acknowledged that it was engaged in an offensive against the narcos, Operation Jalisco, when the May Day attacks occurred.
In a sign of the times, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s office did not immediately issue a detailed communiqué, instead limiting the President’s remarks to a few words on Twitter pledging that the government would prevail.
In Puerto Vallarta, five gas stations were reported set on fire in different neighborhoods while at least three banks-HSBC, Santander and Banorte- were the targets of other attacks on Francisco Villa Avenue, one of the port city’s main thoroughfares. A truck was torched next to the indoor Plaza Caracol mall. As a precaution, local authorities evacuated Plaza Caracol and another popular indoor shopping mall, Las Galerias.
No casualties or damages to the hotel district were reported in Puerto Vallarta, but the violence put a chill on the tourist destination during the so-called “puente,” or long weekend holiday, when thousands of Mexican tourists were expected to spend millions of dollars partying and soaking up the sun.
In Guadalajara, where 80 percent of public transportion was reportedly suspended for four hours, “narco-blockades” caused the suspension of the National Olympics competition until further notice. Despite the flare-up in violence, teachers and other workers staged May Day demonstrations to press forward labor issues.
In southeastern Jalisco, meanwhile, gunfire forced a landing of a Mexican Air Force helicopter, with three soldiers reported killed and at least 10 others injured. Two federal police officers riding on the Cougar transport helicopter were likewise listed as injured.
The upheaval occurred less than one month after 15 policemen were ambushed and killed on a mountain highway connecting Guadalajara with Puerto Vallarta.
Although the morning of May Day was filled with violent encounters, Jalisco authorities reported the situation had calmed down by day’s end.
“Order has been restored in the entire state,” insisted Jalisco Governor Aristoteles Sandoval Diaz. “Since the incidents were reported, “I have had contact with the coordination of security and the President of the Republic. There is a total deployment in the whole state of elements under the Unified Command and permanent communication with the federal security cabinet.”
Some business leaders called for a hard-line. “The Mexican state has to act with more force to finish off the delinquents, and not stop until they are exterminated,” demanded Enrique Solana Senties, leader of the Concanaco-Servytur business association.
“We are in a new and problematic situation, with an expected response but more violent, bellicose and rabid on the part of small criminal groups reacting to the detention of their leaders…”
The May 1 road blockades and attacks followed similar outbursts of mayhem in the northern border state of Tamaulipas, where presumed members of the Gulf Cartel clashed with security forces after the arrests of underworld leaders last month. Daytime shootouts that lasted three hours terrorized the border city of Reynosa on April 17.
On a related note, narco-tainted violence also struck anew in the state of Guerrero on May 1, when an armed group assassinated Ulises Fabian Quiroz, the candidate of President Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party for the municipal presidency of Chilapa.
Quiroz was taken from his vehicle while on the campaign stump in a rural hamlet and shot on the spot numerous times. Situated in a corridor between an opium-producing region and the state capital of Chilpancingo, the area surrounding Chilapa has been the scene of repeated confrontations between two groups vying for local domination: Los Rojos and Los Ardillos.
The slain candidate was a 34-year-old accountant who also represented the Mexican Green Party in the mayoral race. His violent demise was preceded by the March murder of a woman aspirant for the mayor’s office in the town of Ahuacotzingo, Aide Nava Gonzalez. A hopeful for the Democratic Party of the Revolution, Nava was found decapitated with a narco-like message warning individuals who did not “line-up.”
On April 25, one of the leading candidates for governor of Guerrero, Luis Walton of the Citizen Movement party, ran into a group of about 20 men armed with cocked automatic rifles and grenade launchers while on a campaign tour in a rural region of the state. Walton’s driver made a hasty u-turn, and no violence ensued, but the candidate’s caravan was tailed by mysterious men until it departed from the area.
Quiroz’s May 1 murder casts another pall over Guerrero, where parents of the 43 disappeared students from the Ayotzinapa rural teachers’ college and their allies are forcefully demanding the cancellation of the June 7 elections on the grounds that the local political scene is dominated by criminal interests and conditions do not exist for free and fair elections in Guerrero.
Sources: La Jornada (Jalisco edition), May 1 and 2, 2015. Articles by Alma Gomez, Ignacio Perez, Javier Santos, E. Ferrer, and Lupita Martinez. Noticiaspv.com, May 1 and 2, 2015. Articles by Adrian de los Santos and editorial staff. Tribuna de la Bahia, May 2, 2015.
Milenio.com, May 1, 2015. Articles by Sonia Serrano Iniguez and editorial staff. El Universal, May 1, 2015. Proceso/Apro, May 1, 2015. Articles by Alberto Osorio, Gloria Reza, Felipe Cobian, and Beatriz Pereyra.
La Jornada, April 26 and May 1, 2015. Articles by Sergio Ocampo, Alma Gomez, Gustavo Castillo, Juan Carlos Flores, Susana Gonzalez G., Juan Carlos G. Partida, and AFP. NPR, May 1, 2015. El Sur, April 26 and May 2, 2015. Articles by Jacob Morales Antonio and editorial staff.