MEXICO CITY (AP) — Papal Nuncio Mons. Franco Coppola paid a visit Friday to a remote mountain hamlet in southern Mexico that has been ravaged by killings, drug cartel turf battles and even exploding drones attacks on police.
Coppola offered a mass in the town of Aguililla as a show of solidarity with the town’s residents, who have been largely cut off from the outside world after warring cartels closed off roads.
He and residents walked through the streets of Aguililla with an image of Christ, to symbolically reclaim roadways where dozens of bodies — some decapitated — have been left in recent months.
“These streets that had been taken over by violence, were walked by the people who joyously followed Christ,” said Coppola. “This town has not been crushed. Clearly, it has suffered serious blows, but has not been crushed.”
“I found the best that I could hope to find,” Coppola said of the trip, which winds through dangerous roads that had until recent days been blocked by improvised trenches and hijacked vehicles. “The best I could was that the people have not abandoned the town.”
Thousands of residents have been forced to flee towns in states like Michoacán and neighboring Guerrero state, after their communities were caught in the middle of cartel turf battles.
Bishop Cristóbal Ascencio García, whose Apatzingán diocese includes Aguililla, prayed for the conversion of the cartel gunmen who have made normal life in the town impossible.
“Let us take this communion with faith, asking God for the gift of peace, the gift of conversion for all of us, the gift of conversion for my brothers who are involved in bad things, who have taken the wrong path and are in drug cartels,” Ascencio García said.
Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said earlier this week that drug cartels have attacked police or soldiers with explosive-laden drones in a hamlet near Aguililla and at least two other states. The most recent attack wounded two police, one in the arm and one in the leg. The officers were treated and released from a hospital.
Cresencio Sandoval said the drone attacks were “worrisome” but not as effective as the cartels might desire because the relative light devices cannot carry enough explosives to do significant damage.
Authorities have not described the devices in detail. Local media reported the drones carried hand grenades, but photos have circulated of drones carrying taped packs of explosive charges.
The Jalisco New Generation cartel is battling for control of the area against the rival New Michoacán Family, which is allied with the Viagras or United Cartels. Located near the Pacific coast, Aguililla is a key point in smuggling routes and is also home to iron ore mines that provide drug cartels with extortion money.
State police and soldiers were sent in to restore order earlier this month; the cartels responded by parking hijacked trucks across roads to block them. The Michoacán cartel has also dug trenches across roads to keep Jalisco gunmen out.
The Jalisco cartel is also fighting turf wars in Guanajuato and its home state of Jalisco, the other two states where explosive drones have been used.