Members of the armed group “Los Motonetos.” Photo: Google

By MARK LORENZANA

A group of hooded and masked men in bulletproof vests and armed with high-caliber firearms were caught on camera by terrified residents on the afternoon of Tuesday, June 14, in San Cristóbal de las Casas, a town located in the central highlands region of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

The group, whose members call themselves “Los Motonetos,” was recorded on video — which was posted later on social media — firing shots into the air, stopping traffic and threating motorists. Some witnesses have reported that the armed group even robbed civilians of their valuables like jewelry, purses and cellular phones.

The armed men — who were carrying both pistols and rifles and started shooting outside a public market — were demanding a change in administration of the market, which has some 1,000 tenants. According to local reports, there have also been clandestine firearms sales and drug trafficking in the public market.

Residents had to suffer the ordeal for five hours — forcing employees of a nearby supermarket to close its doors and terrified staff of a health center to take shelter under their desks — before members of the Mexican Army, National Guard and state and municipal police finally arrived to restore order. The armed group dispersed upon arrival of the authorities, according to local reports.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), in his regular morning press conference, lamented the acts of violence in Chiapas, but rejected the notion that there is widespread insecurity in the country. He added that the incident occurred because of two rival criminal organizations trying to take control of the public market in San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Incidentally, AMLO had to comment as well on the confrontation between police and armed men that occurred on the same day as the Chiapas incident, which left at least 10 dead in Texcaltitlán, a town and municipality in the State of Mexico (Edoméx).

“In the case of the State of Mexico, it was a confrontation. The police were going to execute an arrest warrant, and they were attacked by a criminal group,” AMLO said.

“These things happen, it should not be generalized. It is not what the United States agencies say, that 30 percent of Mexico is dominated by organized crime. That is not true.”

Recent incidents of killings and shootouts, however, belie López Obrador’s claim that there is no widespread insecurity and violence in the country. For instance, on the morning of Wednesday, June 8, armed men on board a motorcycle shot and killed Rubén de Jesús Valdez Díaz, the municipal president of Teopisca, Chiapas. Valdez Díaz suffered eight gunshot wounds.

And in what constitutes Mexico’s largest mass murder so far this year — believed to be the result of a gang dispute — in February of this year an estimated 17 people were summarily executed outside a funeral home in San José de Gracia, Michoacán, a town on the border with Jalisco. The bodies later disappeared from the streets, and a gunfight between various armed groups ensued.

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