URUAPAN, MEXICO (AP) — Alejandra Uvilla fled her home city of Apatzingan because of overwhelming violence, moving 65 miles (105 km) north to bustling, mountain-nestled Uruapan in the avocado belt of Michoacan state. Three years later, the bloodshed is even worse here.
Cartels are battling for territory and reports of grisly killings are common, such as the gun massacre last week of three young boys, a teenager and five others who were playing video games at an arcade in what had been a relatively quiet neighborhood.
“You constantly hear that there are a lot of dead here in Uruapan,” said Uvilla, a 20-year-old stay-at-home mom, adding that she doesn’t know what to do anymore other than be extra cautious with her 1-year-old son. “And you don’t live at ease, because now when you go out, you do so with fear.”
The names of cartels have changed over the years in Uruapan as groups and alliances wax and wane, but the killings continue. Similar stories are playing out in many towns and cities across the country, leaving millions of Mexicans fearful, frustrated and discouraged amid record homicide levels, de facto cartel control over entire communities and no apparent end in sight to nearly a decade and a half of drug conflict.
Mexico recorded 35,588 homicides last year, the most since comparable records began to be kept in the 1990s, though the rate of increase was far lower than in previous years. Since then-President Felipe Calderón ramped up a militarized anti-drug offensive beginning in 2006, annual killings have more than tripled in the country.
Current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office in December 2019, has in the past referred to his security strategy as “hugs not bullets” and emphasizes addressing root causes of violence such as poverty, youth unemployment and corruption, in contrast to his predecessors.
Not everyone agrees.
“If we keep doing the same thing we can’t expect different results,” university professor Emiliano Maciel Ávila said while walking in Uruapan’s main square. “I don’t think this hugging and kissing thing is working. I think we have to combat them.”
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