By Leslie Bonilla
Mexican authorities found 19 bodies Thursday in western Mexico, apparent casualties of a drug turf war. The killings contrast with years of gangs hiding their hits, recalling instead past drug wars, when criminal groups dumped piles of bodies on the streets as overt warnings to authorities and rival drug gangs.
Nine bodies were hanging from an overpass by their necks, while seven more were hacked and dumped on the nearby road, under a pedestrian bridge. Three more bodies filled with gunshot wounds, lay further down the same road, said Adrian Lopez, the attorney general for the state of Michoacan, where the murders happened.
As he spoke, ambulance sirens wailed in the distance.
Initials on a banner near the hanged corpses indicated that the Jalisco drug cartel was responsible, and that the killings were a warning to rival gang, the Viagras.
“Be a patriot, kill a Viagra,” read the banner in part.
The killings were likely part of a turf war between the drug cartels, said Lopez at a press briefing Thursday.
“Certain criminal gangs are fighting over territory, to control activities related to drug production, distribution and consumption,” Lopez said. He warned locals to take precautions, but said residents should not alter their daily routines in light of the killings.
Cartels have for years tried to hide casualties, going as far as to dig secret burial pits or dissolve the bodies in chemicals. But some gangs, link to the notorious Jalisco cartel, may be returning to more overt displays of murder, meant to intimidate police and rivals.
The practice was widespread from 2006 to 2012, during the height of the Mexican War on Drugs. Thousands have died in the conflict, with thousands more cartel members detained and convicted.
The U.S. State Department considers the state of Michoacan a “do not travel” zone, the highest-level travel advisory, due to crime.
Michoacan authorities said an investigation was under way and included federal, state and municipal forces.
“We will not let our guard down,” wrote the state’s department of security on Twitter.