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Exodus in Aguililla, Michoacán: Many Families Are Fleeing to the US

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“Parro” for Borderland Beat

Residents are fleeing cartel violence and crime, including death threats, extortion and being forced to serve as human shields.

In Aguililla, Michoacan, the Catholic Church is issuing letters of recommendation to residents to support their future claims of US asylum as they flee the violence that has embattled their town.

Parish priest Gilberto Vergara that the Aguililla church has issued up to 85 letters this week where he has detailed proof that the residents’ lives are in danger due to the violence. The bloody turf war between Carteles Unidos (CU) and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) in Aguililla has intensified in recent months.

With these letters, residents can present them directly to US immigration authorities, Vergara said.

“It’s a kind of guarantee that they’re from here [Aguililla] and that their lives and those of their families are in danger.”

Sources say that close to 200 families have fled Aguililla in the past three weeks, citing violence, extortion, and death threats as their reasons for leaving. Some people have fled to go with other family members, some have stayed in church-run shelters, and others have headed north to the US.

Priest and activist Gregorio Lopez Geronimo said that Aguililla has become a “ghost town”. When asked about the government’s role in what is happening in Aguililla, Lopez-Geronimo said that they are in cahoots with them. He described them as “beasts” and “soulless” beings.

Luis, a rancher who asked the Catholic Church for a letter of recommendation, said that he was forced by the CJNG to join a human shield outside the army’s base near Aguililla. He said that the CJNG forced them to do this to stop the army’s operations in the area, and that they threatened to kill his wife and other relatives if he did not obey. Luis said that cartel members kidnapped and reportedly killed his daughter and nephew last year.

He said that he has lived his entire live in El Aguaje, a rural community in Aguililla where the CJNG paraded an armored “narco-tank” in broad daylight last month. This was also the location where a drone bomb attack was carried out against the Michoacan State Police.

Luis said that he took advantage of the visit of the Vatican’s ambassador to Mexico to Aguililla last week to flee with his family. He fled with about 200 pesos and a few essentials. Archbishop Franco Coppola, papal nucio to Mexico, was able to travel to Aguililla by road from a neighboring municipality. Some of the roads heading to Aguililla had been blocked by armed men for weeks.

Vergara said that criminals continue to set up blockades on the main highway during the night.

“We’ve left our home, our land and an entire life of work to look for a calmer life because it seems that our luck has run out,” he said. “… We can no longer put up with this violence that screws us over every day. … I managed to take a few things to survive and [received] God’s blessing that the Vatican’s envoy gave us.”

“… The CJNG took everything from us, even courage.”

Sources: El Universal; Milenio; MDN


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