Crime & Justice

Once a Mexican drug trafficker’s paradise, El Aguaje now a ghost town

By Marco Antonio Duarte

Morelia, Mexico, Apr 25 (EFE).- Once a national leader in marijuana cultivation, the Mexican town of El Aguaje now faces a massive exodus of families who made their fortunes selling the drug.

El Aguaje is the most recognized town in the municipality of Aguililla, in the western Mexican state of Michoacán, and famous for “narcocorridos,” the Mexican drug-dealer ballads that describe its history as a “narco town,” although today it only has around 300 inhabitants of the 15,000 that had in the 1990s.

At that time, the town was known as a “narco’s paradise” by the dozens of families who built ostentatious residences accompanied by luxurious trucks at their doors.

Juan, a young lemon cutter who refuses to leave the town, tells Efe that clashes between hitmen, with grenades, drones with explosives and armored monster trucks, have caused the exodus of more than 2,000 people in recent months.

“When there was a festival in town or private party, there were always important musical groups such as El Recodo, the Banda Machos, Los Yonics, Los Freddy’s, Los Muecas and other important ones of the time, which did not even reach the largest cities of Michoacán,” he says.

“(People) used marijuana to pay while at the party and you would be impressed to see the amount of bottles of whiskey and Martell cognac that were consumed as if they were beers,” adds Juan.

Unlike last century, today El Aguaje and Aguililla are experiencing a wave of violence between Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) and The New Michoacán Family (La Nueva Familia Michoacana) syndicate.

It is this violence and the forced displacement of its inhabitants that prompted the apostolic nuncio to Mexico to visit Michoacán, one of the six states with the most murders.

Coppola, the pope’s representative visiting El Aguaje town, called on Friday for the “conversion” of drug traffickers to redress the violence that this area of Michoacán, called Tierra Caliente, suffers.

The state highway that connects the municipality of Apatzingán with Aguililla for 7 kilometers also serves as the main avenue of El Aguaje, where abandoned houses appear as evidence of a “war zone” not recognized by the authorities.

Miguel Estrada García, a historian from Apatzingán, the main municipality of Tierra Caliente, says that historical records of that area of Michoacán reveals that in the 1970s even the most humble house had a satellite dish and residents of El Aguaje produced marijuana to barter with drug traffickers for goods or money.

“The settlers in the sixties and seventies began to produce marijuana to exchange it in sacks for a sewing machine for their mothers, for a refrigerator, or even for weapons and money,” he says.

He adds that in the 50s and 60s, the army even detected DC-3 aircraft, which landed on clandestine runways high in the mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental to collect packages of marijuana and opium gum, to later transport to the US.

But as the years have passed, Mexican drug traffickers have shifted away from marijuana to focus on hard drugs on demand in the US. Estrada said people began to grow opium poppies as the typical climate of the Sierra Madre Occidental was excellent for this crop.

“This set off alarm bells in the International Narcotics Office in Mexico and the international pressures then followed,” concludes Estrada. EFE


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