7 killed in Mexico's most violent state despite capo arrest

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Hopes that the recent arrest of a Mexican gang leader could calm the country’s most violent state appeared dashed Saturday as the bullet-ridden bodies of seven men were found in a field and a rival drug cartel announced it was moving in.

The central state of Guanajuato has been the scene of over 9,000 killings since the Santa Rosa de Lima gang and the rival Jalisco cartel started a turf war for control of the industrial state around 2017.

There were hopes the violence might subside after the Aug. 2 arrest of Santa Rosa gang leader José Antonio Yépez Ortiz, better known by his nickname “El Marro,” which means “The Sledgehammer.”

But on Saturday, Guanajuato officials confirmed that the bodies of seven men with multiple gunshot wounds were found dumped on the side of a road near the Jerécuaro, near the state's border with Michoacan. Authorities said they found spent shell casings from assault rifles and pistols at the scene, suggesting the men had been killed there.

Also Saturday, a video was posted on social media showing about two dozen men dressed in military-style fatigues and armed with assault rifles, .50-caliber sniper rifles and at least two belt-fed machine guns. The men claim in the video to be members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, the rival of the Santa Rosa gang that has sought to move into Guanajuato.

“We know that there are still people from this gang of killers of innocents,” a cartel spokesman says in the video, a reference to remaining Santa Rosa gang members. “They will also fall. The best thing they can do is run.”

The video promises that once the Santa Rosa gang is gone, peace will return to Guanajuato under Jalisco New Generation, which is Mexico's most violent and fastest growing cartel.

“Today, the Cartel Jalisco New Generation makes the promise to you, the people of Guanajuato, and to the authorities, that it will keep the state in peace and tranquility,” the spokesman said.

It is a promise the Jalisco cartel has made in the past in other parts of Mexico, and always broken.

Authorities could not immediately confirm the authenticity of the video, but the cartel has posted similar videos in the past.

The last one, posted in July, was confirmed by the Defense Department to show members of an elite hit squad of Jalisco gunmen who may have had some military training. Officials said the video was apparently filmed near the border of Jalisco and Guanajuato states and showed a column of about 75 gunmen dressed in military-style fatigues with a dozen homemade armored pickup trucks, an anti-aircraft gun, nine belt-fed machine guns, 10 sniper rifles, six grenade launchers and 54 assault rifles.

The Santa Rosa gang grew up in a farming hamlet of the same name by stealing fuel from government pipelines and refineries and robbing freight from trains. But after authorities stepped up security around trains and pipelines over the last two years, the gang turned to extortion and kidnapping. It would move sector to sector, systematically demanding extortion payments from businesses like tortilla shops or car dealerships.

However, the gang’s reign never affected the major companies that have built dozens of plants in Guanajuato, attracted by investor-friendly policies and excellent rail and highway links.