Mexico confirms 1st apparent victim of cartel land mines
MEXICO CITY (AP) — A farmer with fields on a front line between warring drug cartels in Michoacan state was killed when his pickup truck drove over an improvised land mine, prosecutors said Monday, reporting what appears to be the first civilian death from such a weapon in western Mexico.
The cartels already have used trenches, pillboxes, homemade armored cars and drones modified to drop small bombs in their fight for control of Michoacan. The violence was responsible in part for the U.S. government announcing on Super Bowl weekend that it is temporarily suspending imports of avocados from the area.
The state prosecutor’s office said the 79-year-old farmer was killed over the weekend in the township of Tepalcatepec and his 45-year-old was wounded. The victim had fields in the hamlet of El Aguaje, which has been the front line of fighting between the Jalisco cartel and the rival Viagras gang.
“It was an explosion of homemade explosive device,” the office said in a statement. “It is not known what type of device it was, but investigations are under way.”
Last week an army vehicle was disabled by an improvised explosive device, or IED, planted on a road, and 10 soldiers were injured by the mine or other weapons. That was the first known successful use of IEDs against a military target in Mexico.
But the primitive, buried pipe-bomb style explosives can be indiscriminate weapons. While some reportedly are activated by cellphones, others may simply be triggered by pressure.
There may have been earlier casualties from IEDs.
An Associated Press photographer interviewed a women who claimed her brother was blown to bits in September when he stepped on a land mine in a dirt road in Tepalcatepec. The woman said so little was left of the device and his body that an investigation was apparently never carried out.
In November, residents of the Jalisco-dominated village of Loma Blanca showed AP journalists a small crater, with a round metal plate, where they said a land mine had been set off.
The Milenio news television channel has described the IEDs as PVC pipe bombs buried with a round metal base below and a conical metal cap to direct or concentrate the blast. That coincides with the PVC pipe bombs that villagers showed the AP photographer.
Michoacan state is coveted by drug cartels for its seaport and smuggling routes as well as the opportunity to extort money from the state’s growers of avocados and limes.
Avocado growers are routinely threatened with death unless they pay extortion money to the gangs. A phone message threat received by a U.S. agricultural inspector was what motivated the U.S. import ban announced over the weekend.
The cartels’ bomb-carrying drones have actually caused more terror in Michoacan than the land mines. While initially crude and dangerous to load and operate — and still worrisomely indiscriminate — drone warfare has improved, and it’s not unusual to see metal barn or shed roofs opened like tin cans from the impact of drone explosions.