Mexico arrested cartel suspects. Thousands besieged a state capital.

MEXICO CITY — Thousands of angry protesters with the jailing of two suspected drug cartel members, marched on a state capital in southern Mexico, unleashing a wild melee in which protesters battled police and troops the national guard, they took officials and security forces hostage and crashed an armored vehicle through the doors of the legislature

The violence in Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero state, was an unusually tough challenge by an organized crime group to a government attempt to enforce criminal law. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has sought to break away from the US-backed “war on drugs,” emphasizing the creation of social programs to steer people away from criminal gangs.

The two alleged leaders of Los Ardillos, the Esquirols, were arrested last week and charged with drugs and weapons on Monday, around the time protesters from towns around Chilpancingo launched their siege. The Guerrero state government, led by López Obrador’s Morena party, called on protesters to hold talks. Protesters remained defiant until Tuesday morning, blocking the toll highway from Mexico City to the tourist resort of Acapulco. On Tuesday afternoon, however, state authorities announced a deal to free the hostages: five state troopers, four National Guardsmen, three state officials and one federal official.

Images of thousands of protesters converging on the capital of Guerrero state shocked even Mexicans accustomed to the extreme violence of organized crime groups. News organizations estimated that between 2,000 and 5,000 people from communities controlled by Los Ardillos swarmed into Chilpancingo on Monday, sparking the fighting. Dozens were injured as police fired tear gas canisters and protesters threw stones. Eventually, the approximately 500 members of the security forces withdrew, outnumbered.

“Today criminals don’t just profit of a terrifying arsenal, but of a terrifying ability to bring people to the streets and confront the security forces”, editorialized the left-wing newspaper La Jornada. He accused federal and state authorities of abandoning it the impoverished region, allowing criminal groups to “create a social base”.

Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security, Rosa Icela Rodríguez, told reporters Tuesday that the demonstration was led by members of Los Ardillos. Officials said some villagers may have been forced by the criminal group to participate.

The harassment follows days of violence in Chilpancingo. Taxis and buses were set on fire last weekend and at least five of their drivers were killed. The city’s mayor, Norma Otilia Hernandez, has been fighting accusations that she is linked to organized crime since Mexican media aired a video this month of her having breakfast with an alleged leader of Los Ardillos, apparently shortly after who took office in 2021.

Asked about the video, the mayor told reporters that she sometimes met with “community police forces” but that “there was no dealing with criminals.”

Gabriela Martínez contributed to this report.

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