MEXICO — In a video posted on social media, a man claiming to be a Mexican drug cartel boss claims an attack that killed 20 people including a mayor was in fact directed at him.
Mexican authorities said Friday they are still investigating the authenticity of a video attributed to Jose Alfredo Hurtado, a leader of the Familia Michoacana cartel.
Better known by his nickname ‘The Strawberry’ – a slang term used in Mexico for someone with expensive tastes – the man in the video wears a Gucci T-shirt and talks about narrowly escaping the Wednesday’s attack.
“The attack was aimed at me,” Hurtado said describing Wednesday’s events, in which gunmen entered the town of San Miguel Totolapan and opened fire on a meeting the mayor was holding with other officials.
Hurtado said he had planned to attend that meeting with late mayor Conrado Mendoza and his father, a former mayor, but the gunmen opened fire before he got out of his bulletproof vehicle. , allowing him to narrowly escape.
Hurtado mentions that he had cooperated in the past with the deceased mayor in the fight against the Tequileros gang, who claimed responsibility for the murders, noting “We started this fight together, the mayor and us.”
“We had arranged this meeting with the mayor and his father, and the peace group they have,” he said, referring to a vigilante group that had been active in Totolapan, in the south of the state of Guerrero.
In Mexico, city dwellers under cartel pressure often set up vigilante groups and turn to rival cartels for help in the fight against the oppressors; the cartels make much of their money in Mexico by extorting protection payments from local farmers and businessmen.
Surprisingly, for a man wanted by police, Hurtado said he had been living openly in San Miguel Totolapan for some time.
“My house is in San Miguel, one block from the town hall, I think everyone knows that,” Hurtado said.
Totolapan is a geographically large but sparsely populated mountainous township in a region known as Tierra Caliente, one of Mexico’s most conflicted areas.
In another video posted to social media on Wednesday, gunmen who identified themselves as part of the Tequileros gang claim responsibility for the mass shooting.
On Thursday, Ricardo Mejia, Mexico’s assistant secretary for public security, said the Tequileros were fighting the Familia Michoacana gang in the area.
“This act occurred in the context of a dispute between criminal gangs,” Mejia said. “A group known as the Tequileros dominated the area for a time; it was a group that primarily smuggled and distributed opium, but also engaged in kidnapping, extortion, and several murders in the area.
The Familia Michoacana cartel, despite its name, was actually kicked out of the neighboring state of Michaocan years ago by a vigilante movement. Led by Hurtado and his brother, the cartel has been accused of kidnappings, extortion and bloody attacks on police and soldiers.
Totolapan was controlled for years by drug gang leader Raybel Jacobo de Almonte, known by his nickname “El Tequilero” (“The Tequila Drinker”).
In his only known public appearance, de Almonte was captured on video drinking with Elder Mendoza, who was then the city’s elected mayor, in 2015. It was unclear if Elder Mendoza was there of his own free will, or had been forced to attend the meeting.
In this video, de Almonte appeared so drunk that he mumbled inaudibly and had to be held in a seated position by one of his henchmen.
In 2016, the residents of Totolapan were so fed up with kidnappings by the Tequileros that they kidnapped the gang leader’s mother to take advantage of the release of others.
While the Tequileros had long relied on trafficking opium paste from local poppy growers, the growing use of the synthetic opioid fentanyl had reduced the demand for opium paste and lowered the level of violence in Guerrero.