Mexican cartel shootout leaves 26 dead or wounded in latest violent clash

(THE GUARDIAN) — By David Agren in Mexico City

A battle between rival drug cartel factions in Mexico’s northern Chihuahua state left at least 26 dead and injured, officials have confirmed, in the latest series of violent incidents that have sent the country’s murder rate soaring.

Chihuahua state officials say the shootout occurred in the hamlet of Las Vargas, deep in the rugged Sierra Madre mountains, where the illegal drugs business has deep roots in the local community and economy.

Details were scant, but experts say that the security situation in Chihuahua has deteriorated in recent months as criminal groups squabble over the remains of the empire once controlled by Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.

The shootout was just the latest atrocity in a wave of violence extending the length of Mexico, which has sent the country’s homicide rate soaring to levels not seen in two decades. It came after a weekend attack in neighboring Sinaloa, where a confrontation between accused cartel members and state security forces left 19 suspects dead and five police injured.

Mexico recorded 11,155 homicides over the first five months of 2017, according to federal crime statistics. May, meanwhile, was Mexico’s most murderous month since 1997, when the country started accumulating such statistics, with 2,186 homicides committed.

Analysts attribute the rising violence to a confluence of factors, including changing dynamics in the illegal drugs business. Mexican cartels are shifting focus in their smuggling operations to the US from marijuana to heroin, unleashing a wave of violence in the opium poppy-producing state of Guerrero that has left entire villages have emptied.

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