Two mass kidnappings in the troubled Hot Land region of the beleaguered Mexican state of Guerrero have ended with an unusual result — most of the victims have been released following a large rescue operation by the army and police.
The first kidnapping took place on January 9 when an armed commando blocked off a road in the town of Arcelia and abducted 22 men and killed three others. The victims had been en route to a wedding.
Two days later five teachers were kidnapped by a group of armed men in an elementary school in the neighboring town of Ajuchitlán.
The teachers were kidnapped when a group of approximately 30 armed men entered the school. A YouTube video apparently filmed during the attack shows children taking cover under their desks as shots ring out.
Video via YouTube
The group that had detained the teachers requested a 2.5 million peso (136,000 dollars) ransom.
Early on Friday, 21 of the men kidnapped in Arcelia entered the local public prosecutor's office to testify about their captivity. According to the state government they had been found on a hillside in the neighboring municipality of San Miguel Totolapan, which has also been ravaged by violence and high incidents of extortions, disappearances, and murders.
The group no longer included José Eutimio Tinoco, a businessman who was known as the King of Tortillas, and whose body was found earlier this week dumped along a highway.
Later in the day the government announced that their anti-kidnapping division was successfully able to rescue four of the five missing teachers. It is not known what happened to the fifth.
The government said the teachers were rescued without a shot being fired and that they did not pay the demanded ransom. Proceso magazine reported that they did pay something.
Governor Héctor Astudillo said the largely happy ending was due to a major search operation involving 500 officers. "I am completely convinced that this happened as a consequence of the operation that we carried out," he told a press conference.
The area is one of the main trafficking routes for heroin, and is a battleground for various splinter groups of the Beltrán Leyva Cartel and La Familia Michoacana. As demand for heroin has soared in the United States over the past five years, poppy production has increased in this area.
Iguala — the city that made global headlines when 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher's college were kidnapped and disappeared there on September 26, 2014 — is strategically located between the Hot Land region and larger cities.
Guerrero is a heavily militarized state and following the Ayotzinapa crisis, there has been a surge in federal security agents. This has not helped curb the violence.
Since the new governor took office two months ago, over 300 people have reportedly been murdered in the state.
Security analyst Alejandro Hope attributes the recent violence in Guerrero to a political power vacuum that was created when the former governor Angel Aguirre was forced to resign following the Iguala attack.
He also believes that the deteriorating security situation is a natural progression from the dismantling of larger cartels.
"There is no dominant group in Guerrero," Hope told VICE News. "There is an emergence of these smaller gangs that are much more involved in kidnapping and extortions."
"There is little in terms of state and local enforcement and federal troops are largely based in larger towns as opposed to rural communities that are left unprotected," Hope continued. Guerrero, he said, is a "slow motion disaster" and that without "broad political change" nothing will improve.
The sense of abandonment has fueled the formation of self-defense vigilante groups. A video posted on a local Facebook page purporting to be of the kidnapped group of 22 men, implied that the abduction was carried out by a vigilante group.
Over the past week a new group emerged in the town of Teloloapan, which is located between Arcelia and Iguala.
"We are fed up with all the kidnappings and homicides," Commander Garra, one of the new group's leaders, told the local news agency Quadratín. "If the people join with us we can change things because only the people can put an end to this. Up until now the authorities have been unable to do anything."
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