IRAPUATO, Mexico (AP) — Mexico’s drug war has long played out in dusty northern border cities or the poppy fields of its southern mountains, but now the killings have moved to the conservative industrial heartland state of Guanajuato, creating a strange duality: shiny new auto plants and booming foreign investment even as the state becomes Mexico’s most violent.
Gleaming four-lane highways pass sprawling automotive plants and people carry yoga mats and sip chai at outdoor cafes in upscale suburbs. Several new luxury subdivisions spring up every year in the state’s colonial city of San Miguel de Allende, which is popular with foreigners.
But Guanajuato’s visible wealth contrasts with its grim headlines: Seven men lined up in a junkyard and shot. Gunmen open fire in a roadside eatery, leaving nine customers dead in a lake of blood. Seven people are gunned down at a street-side taco stand.
That was just one week in late January when the government said Guanajuato, which has around 5% of Mexico’s population, suffered 20% of its homicides. In 2019, the state had a homicide rate of about 61 per 100,000 inhabitants, making it Mexico’s most violent.
It is not the auto plant executives or foreigners who are getting killed, as local officials like to point out. The violence arises from a bloody war between the home-grown Santa Rosa de Lima gang and the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which is waging a major offensive to move into Guanajuato. The state is attractive to drug cartels for the same reason it is to auto manufacturers — road and rail networks that lead straight to the U.S. border.
The head of the state’s security commission, Sofia Huett, defines Guanajuato’s odd dynamic this way: “Sometimes people confuse the violence with a lack of public safety in Guanajuato, and in fact they are two different things.”
What Huett apparently means is that what officials define as decent, law-abiding people aren’t being killed. Criminals are killing criminals is a refrain repeatedly heard, along with the belief that most of the criminals are from outside the deeply Roman Catholic state — a reference to the invading gang from Jalisco and violence spilling over from Michoacan.