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Illustration by Security Management 

Mexican Cartel Wars Escalate with IEDs

Mexican drug cartels’ arsenal of weapons is expanding. In addition to outfitting vehicles to serve as armored cars and using drones to drop small bombs, officials in the western state of Michoacán said improvised explosive devices (IEDs) have been used on roads to disable army vehicles.

A spokesman for a self-defense movement in the town of Tepalcatepec supplied photos of a disabled army light armored vehicle. It had been damaged by an improvised landmine, he said, likely planted by the Jalisco cartel. Rocket-propelled grenades and car bombs are well known cartel tools, but if verified, this would mark the first time IEDs have been successfully used by cartels in Mexico, The Washington Post reported.

The Mexican Defense Department did not comment on the alleged IED use, but it did say that army patrols were attacked multiple times in that area in late January with explosives, armored cars, and firearms—wounding 10 soldiers. The army defused 12 other handmade mines around Tepalcatepec on 2 February, according to Milenio. The newspaper reports that hitmen from the Jalisco cartel copied Islamic State tactics by using the mines to attack military convoys.

Security analyst Juan Ibarrola told the Post that “the worrisome thing is the improvisation that they (criminal groups) are doing with engineering, to create weapons, boobytraps, explosives, and so on.”

It is unclear if the mines are being used to wage war against other cartels in the area—fighting for control of seaports and smuggling routes—or to extort money from avocado and lime farmers in the state.

Cartels have displaced multiple lime growers, looted their homes, burned orchards, and stole tractors and cattle, according to Business Insider. The threats dramatically reduced crop production in the area, with around 1,200 acres of farmland unharvested in 2021. The limited harvest contributed to increased lime prices (up 235 percent since January 2021), which allowed drug traffickers to manipulate prices and charge farmers higher extortion fees.

The attacks against lime growers follow similar strategies against avocado farmers, InSight Crime reported. Competing cartels have been extorting avocado farmers since 2019, kidnapping or killing those who did not pay. Farmers have banded together to form self-defense groups, protecting their crops with machetes and firearms.