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State Capital Under Siege as Mexico Makes Arrests in Cartel Case



MEXICO CITY — Thousands of protesters, angered by the jailing of two alleged drug cartel members, marched on a state capital in southern Mexico, setting off a wild melee in which demonstrators battled police and national guard troops, took officials and security forces hostage and crashed an armored vehicle through the gates of the legislature.

The violence in Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero state, was an unusually stark challenge by an organized crime group to a government attempt to enforce criminal law. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has sought to break with the U.S.-backed “war on drugs,” emphasizing instead the creation of social programs to lure people away from crime groups.

The two alleged leaders of Los Ardillos — the Squirrels — were arrested last week and indicted on drug and weapons charges on Monday, around the time that marchers from the villages around Chilpancingo launched their siege. The Guerrero state government, led by López Obrador’s Morena party, appealed to the protesters to hold talks. The demonstrators were defiant through Tuesday morning, blocking the toll road from Mexico City to the tourist resort of Acapulco. On Tuesday afternoon, however, state authorities announced an agreement to free the hostages — five state police officers, four national guard troops, three state officials and a federal official.

Images of thousands of demonstrators converging on the Guerrero state capital stunned even Mexicans accustomed to the extreme violence of organized crime groups. News organizations estimated that between 2,000 and 5,000 people from communities controlled by Los Ardillos swarmed Chilpancingo on Monday, setting off the fracas. Dozens were reported injured as police hurled tear gas canisters and protesters threw rocks. Eventually, the roughly 500 members of the security forces retreated, outnumbered.

“Today criminals don’t benefit only from a frightening arsenal, but a terrifying capacity to bring people into the streets and confront security forces,” the left-wing daily La Jornada editorialized. It accused federal and state authorities of abandoning the impoverished region, allowing crime groups to “create a social base.”

Mexico’s secretary of public security, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, told reporters Tuesday that the demonstration was led by members of Los Ardillos. Officials said some villagers might have been forced by the crime group to take part.

The sieged follows days of violence in Chilpancingo. Last weekend, taxis and buses were set on fire and at least five of their drivers killed. The city’s mayor, Norma Otilia Hernández, has been fighting allegations that she is connected to organized crime since Mexican media aired a video this month of her having breakfast with an alleged leader of Los Ardillos, apparently shortly after she took office in 2021.

Asked about the video, the mayor told reporters that she sometimes met with “community police forces” but that “there wasn’t any deal with criminals.”

Gabriela Martínez contributed to this report.

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