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How an isolated group of Mormons became involved in Mexico's cartel wars



Amidst the scrubby foothills of the Sierra Madre in Sonora, they raised pomegranates and pistachios, raised large families, and preached a fundamentalist Mormon belief.

Also, the small community of La Mora used a troubled peace for years with the mafia gangs that dominate this part of northern Mexico: identify themselves at antitrust checkpoints and avoid the lonesome dirt roads of the region after dark.

"We were all stopped in the street ̵

1; cartel groups just wanted to know who we are," said Kenneth Miller Jr., a resident of the small town. "We never had to worry much, we've always been warned when there's something going on in the area."

But if the Mormons ever thought they were protected by the US passports most of them own, such illusions were destroyed this week.

Six children and three women – all US citizens – were massacred on a dirt road nearby as armed men raided their convoy with SUVs, killing children at close range, and shooting a mother, while begging for their lives.

My grandchildren, daughters, and daughter-in-law just burned them, "a frightened family member said in a relatives-exchanged voice message to the Guardian." There's nothing left. Only a few bones.

Calderón sends the army

Mexico's "war on drugs" began in late 2006, when then President Felipe Calderón ordered thousands of troops to take to the streets in response to an explosion of terrible violence in his home state of Michoacán.

Calderón hoped to smash the drug cartels with his heavily militarized attack, but the approach was counterproductive and demanded a catastrophic number of people. As the Mexican military went on the offensive, the number of bodies shot up and tens of thousands were expelled from their homes, disappeared or killed.

Kingpin Strategy

At the same time, Calderón pursued the so-called "kingpin strategy", with which the authorities tried to decapitate the cartels by targeting their leaders.

This policy led to some high profile scalp pests – especially Arturo Beltrán Leyva, who was shot down by Mexican Marines in 2009 – but also little to bring peace. Indeed, many believe that such tactics served only to pulverize the world of organized crime and provoke even more violence as new, less predictable factions fought for their piece of cake. Crime was tempered as Mexico tried to rebuild its reputation as the seat of some the world's most murderous mafia groups.

However, Calderón's policies remained largely in place and authorities turned against prominent cartelists such as Sinaloas Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzman "El Chapo" was arrested in early 2016, Mexico's president bragged: "mission accomplished". But the violence continued. When Peña Nieto resigned in 2018, Mexico suffered another record year of killings, killing nearly 36,000 people.

"Hugs instead of bullets"

The left-wing populist Andrés Manuel López Obrador took power in December and promised a dramatic change in tactics. López Obrador or Amlo, as most people call him, pledged to attack the social roots of crime and provide vocational training for more than 2.3 million disadvantaged young people, who are at risk from the cartels.

"It's going to be practical It's impossible to achieve peace without justice and welfare," Amlo said, pledging to lower the average homicide death rate every day with his doctrine of "hugs instead of bullets."

Amlo also pledged to lead the daily security service at 6 am Meeting and create a 60,000 strong "National Guard". However, these measures have not yet paid off as the new security forces were mainly used to hunt down Central American migrants.

Mexico currently suffers an average of 96 murders per day. Since Amlo took office, nearly 29,000 people have been killed.

The massacre prompted Donald Trump to demand "WAR" against the cartels, reinforcing the pressure on Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose discourse has abandoned the militarized strategy of its predecessors in favor of a vaguely defined strategy of moral renewal.

But the incident has also focused on the isolated Mormon communities and their long history in a rough corner of the country, their origins as religious apostates before the laws of the US against polygamy – and their recent clashes with Mexican drug cartels – highlighted No one knows exactly what triggered the attacks on Monday in La Mora, some 70 miles south of the Arizona border.

Mexican officials have speculated that c Artel Gunmen confused the group of women and children with members of a rival armed group.

The region is said to be the scene of a struggle for supremacy of an organized crime group known as La Línea based in Ciudád Juárez, Chihuahua. and another group known as Los Salazar, based in Sonora, which is affiliated to the Sinaloa Cartel.

But the eight surviving children – some with heavy gunshot wounds – told a story of senseless violence in which one of the women got off their SUV to signal that they were women and children just to get shot.

The man in the audio recording – identified by a source as Kenneth Miller Sr – described the consequences of the attack, during which a search party from La Mora set off in search of the missing families, but returned when they noticed that Gunmen, who they suspect were members of the Chihuahua faction, were still on a nearby hill. "src =" https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/e8c297709dc01472967083953386886296647305/0_0_3258_2172/master/3258.jpg?width=300&quality=85&auto=format&fit=max&s=476e300e36c79a5e5ffcc7e709f754a1 "/>



SUV convoy at the funeral of the victims on Thursday. Photo: Carlos Jasso / Reuters

"Soon the Sonora people are coming. Literally 50, 60 [of them] and they were waiting there. And they were a bit nervous too. By the time they got reconciled – when they finally got brave – they went in and we followed them, "he said in the record shared on WhatsApp.

Relatives of the victims recognized the security situation in the region had started to deteriorate as the rival crime groups struggled to control the isolated road north towards the border.

"Tensions have increased in recent months. The Chihuahua side and the Sonora side have been fighting for this route for some time, "Miller Jr. said." The Chihuahua side is trying to shut down because this is a huge smuggling route. "

Brent LeBarón, whose aunt and cousins ​​were killed on Monday's attack, said the first sign that something was wrong was earlier this year, when Americans drove relatives who were traveling to a funeral in the area accidentally through a cartel checkpoint – causing a persecution and a warning.

Other warnings came "through the grapevine," he said. "Obviously they are fighting over grass and access to roads and pushing their drugs to the limit."

The attack this week was not the first time the LeBarón family had been targeted. A decade ago, a boy was kidnapped from the town of Colonia LeBarón, which the family founded in Chihuahua. On this occasion, the family refused to pay a ransom and barricaded the city, forcing the kidnappers to release the boy.

But soon after, the cartel henchmen returned and captured Benjamín LeBarón, an activist against crime. and his brother-in-law Luis Widmar.

The two men were dragged out of their homes and killed – but few in the family regret that they opposed the armed men.

We will get 10 more. It was an attitude we had to take as a community, "said Brent LeBarón as he traveled to La Mora for the victims' funerals on Thursday.

"That's why it became so famous … because, hey, we do not stand for it. And if you can not protect us, try to enter or leave our farms.

Such words reflect a border ethic that is influenced by the American roots of the family – but also by the fact that it occurs most in the US Family members are dual US-Mexican citizens.

LeBarón acknowledged that their status in the past has made the Mexican authorities more responsive – "it will be a bigger problem if dual citizens are attacked."

This was not the case Monday when police and army needed eight hours to reach the location of the attack.

But in a country where victims' families are usually silent for fear of retaliation – or stigmatized as an accomplice in violence against them – LeBaróns and other Mormon families have made their voice heard.

"Yes, death sucks, but we are not afraid of it and we are ready to defend what belongs to us: our rights and the right to life and happiness and the persecution," said Brent LeBa rón.

Despite the harsh environment, families in the Mormon colonies of Mexico have thrived well over the years. Many of the men work in the US as roofers, carpenters and drywallers and then invest their income in pecan orchards and chillies in Mexico.





  Some Mormons belong to the church, others pray in unconnected communities.



Some Mormons belong to the church, but others pray in unconnected communities. Photo: Carlos Jasso / Reuters

But they date back to 1876, when the Mormon prophet Brigham Young dispatched reconnaissance teams at a time when the church was trying to evade US prohibitions on polygamy and evangelization in Mexico and Latin America, said Jeffrey Jones, a former Mexican senator and distant relative of a leader from the original expedition.

Some members of the community still belong to the official LDS church, though many still worship in unconnected communities, LeBarón said, although he said the practice of polygamy was "faded". [19659003] The first settlers cultivated apples and peaches in nine colonies on the plateaus – until the 1910 revolution broke out.

Revolutionary leaders ordered the settlers to disarm, leading to a mass exodus, Jones said – living on the same property in Colonia Dublán, the birthplace of George Romney, father of the presidential candidate of 2012, Mitt Romney.

Some modern Mexican Mormons have similar fears of being unprotected in a country. This has strict gun laws but is full of illegal weapons.

"If the Mexican government designed it so that a civilian could have a firearm, I think this stuff would settle down much faster than anyone would believe." said Miller Jr.

Another member of the family, Alex LeBarón, pointed out that many of the weapons used in Mexico's furious drug wars come from the north of the border. After Donald Trump tweeted, "Sometimes you need an army to defeat an army." Prevent the gaps in the ATF and weapons law Mexico from being systematically filled with high-performance weapons. "


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