MEXICO CITY — Armed gunmen burst into a funeral in the violence-ravaged state of Michoacán, lined mourners up against a wall, and executed a reported 17 people on Sunday, according to local news reports.
The execution in broad daylight on a public street in San José de Gracia, about 350 miles from Mexico City, is a reminder of how violent the western state of Michoacan has become, which is one of the frontlines of Mexico’s roiling crime wars. It also highlights the brazen modus operandi of organized crime groups and the government’s lack of control around the country.
Video of the massacre shows some dozen people lined up outside a house in broad daylight with their backs to the wall and hands over their faces as mournful music blasts inside. Two white SUVs with doors open are parked in front of them on the street. At least five gunmen can be seen, most of them in black T-shirts. Two rummage in the car before remerging onto the street, their guns visible. Two other gunmen crouch behind a car a few feet away.
A couple of single shots are fired, and then the group of gunmen discharge a hail of bullets. The camera of the person filming the incident shakes sideways amid the stream of bullets before returning to the scene. A plume of smoke is visible where the people had once stood.
The video appears to have been recorded from the roof of a house down the block from the massacre.
The Pacific Coast state recently made the news when the U.S. temporarily banned imports of avocados from Michoacán — which produces 80 percent of avocados consumed in the U.S. — after an employee with the U.S. Department of Agriculture received a threat in mid-February while carrying out an inspection. The U.S. lifted the ban after a week following assurances that the Mexican government had taken steps to ensure the safety of its inspectors. But the latest massacre underscores the terror that Mexican residents continue to live under.
At least 17 people may have been killed in the massacre, according to local news reports, but the Michoacán state prosecutor’s office hasn’t confirmed a number. It put out a statement saying that no bodies were found at the scene but that the site had been recently cleaned. Cleaning supplies were found in a bag and bullet casings of .9mm, 7.72mm, 5.56mm and 45mm firearms were collected, according to the statement. A motorcycle and two vehicles had gunshot damage.
The authorities are investigating whether the bodies were removed by the gunmen or the victims' families. No information has been released about whose wake the victims were attending.
“I hope with all my soul that what happened is not as it’s being portrayed [on social media]. An investigation is being carried out,” President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday morning at his daily press conference, adding that “human body parts” had been found and evidence exists that a massacre took place. “Today we will surely know more.”
López Obrador has not cracked down on the cartels as vehemently as previous administrations and instead says he wants to address the root causes of violence, like poverty and inequality. He described his new strategy as “hugs, not bullets” during his 2018 campaign. But violence has continued unabated. Homicides rose during López Obrador’s first two years in office before falling 3.6 percent in 2021. Critics of his strategy say that giving cartels a pass has led to widespread impunity.
In recent years, Michoacán has become the battleground for a bitter fight for control between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, or CJNG, and a coalition of local groups known as the United Cartels. They are fighting over a number of criminal markets, from the production and trafficking of drugs to control over the state’s lucrative avocado market, which sends around $2.4 billion worth of the fruit to the U.S. every year.
While the state has long battled insecurity, violence has escalated so much in the last year that is has come to resemble a war zone, with land mines a constant threat and bomb-laden drones becoming a new normal.
The federal government deployed more than 1,000 additional soldiers from the Mexican army and National Guard to Michoacan in January to address the exploding violence. Former President Felipe Calderon, who began Mexico’s nationwide crackdown on drug cartels, first deployed troops to Michoacán in 2007.