An elderly farmer died in the Mexican state of Michaocán on Monday in what’s believed to be the first land mine death in the country’s long-running cartel violence.
The 79-year-old farmer died after driving his truck over an improvised land mine, according to the state prosecutor’s office.
“It was an explosion of a homemade explosive device,” the office said in a statement, the Associated Press reports. “It is not known what type of device it was, but investigations are under way.”
The farmer’s fields are located in the hamlet of El Aguaje, an area where Mexican cartels are warring for territory using tactics increasingly reminiscent of guerrilla wars, including drones with bombs, homemade armoured cars, and roadside improvised explosive devices.
Rival gangs including the powerful Jalisco cartel, the Viagras group, and a collection of local outfits, have been fighting over control of the rural state for months, which would allow them access to smuggling routes, a bustling sea port, and Michoacán’s lucrative avocado trade, whose growers are frequently the targets of cartel extortion.
Local residents have also organised armed self-defence groups to fight off the drug gangs.
On Saturday, the US temporarily suspended all imports from Mexico’s $3bn-a-year avocado industry, after a US agricultural inspector in Mexico was threatened.
The US Embassy said afterwards that “facilitating the export of Mexican avocados to the US and guaranteeing the safety of our agricultural inspection personnel go hand in hand,” adding, “We are working with the Mexican government to guarantee security conditions that would allow our personnel in Michoacan to resume operations.”
Last year, Michoacán had 2,732 murders, ranking third for the deadliest state in Mexico for homicides, according the country’s Security and Civil Protection Secretary.
Cartels fighting for control of the area have recruited citizen’s groups as partisans to help strengthen their claim to various parts of territory.
Residents have said local police and military are not doing enough to protect them, and are compromised by corruption.
In December, President Joe Biden signed two executive orders revamping how the US handles transnational drug investigations and associated sanctions, creating the US Council on Transnational Organized Crime.
“Now more than ever, the counter-transnational organized crime mission requires cooperation across the law enforcement, intelligence, military, diplomatic, and economic communities. Through the USCTOC, individual department and agency actions will be more strategically aligned and coordinated to overcome organizational barriers and support integrated action,” a senior administration official told reporters at the time.