Food shortages cripple Bolivia, new elections still uncertain

By Daniel Ramos

LA PAZ (Reuters) – Bolivians languished in long lines on the streets of La Paz on Sunday to secure chicken, eggs and cooking fuel as supporters of ousted President Evo Morales crippled the country’s highways, isolating population centers from lowland farms.

Presidency minister Jerjes Justiniano told reporters the government of interim President Jeanine Anez had established an “air bridge” to supply La Paz, using planes to bypass barricades on highways surrounding the highland capital. He said officials hoped to do the same with other cities cut off from supplies.

Bolivia remained in limbo one week after Morales, a charismatic leftist and former coca farmer, resigned over allegations of vote-tampering. Lawmakers have yet to agree on a date for new elections.

Morales fled to Mexico on Tuesday. But his supporters from largely coca-farming regions of the Andean nation have since taken to the streets, sometimes armed with homemade bazookas, handguns and grenades, barricading roads and skirmishing with security forces.

Some Morales supporters have demanded Anez, a former conservative lawmaker, resign. They have given her a deadline of midnight on Monday to step down, and have called for elections in 90 days.

As roadblocks take their toll, fuel has become scarce and many in the poorer neighborhoods of La Paz have been forced to cook over firewood.

“I hope things calm down,” said Josue Pillco, a construction worker from a working-class La Paz neighborhood. “We’re not getting any food or gasoline.”

Community leaders aligned with Morales in El Alto on Sunday were calling for a general strike Monday, raising the spectre of further supply shortfalls in the nearby capital.

POLICY RESET

Anez has agreed to new elections but also moved quickly to implement changes in policy at home and abroad.

On Friday, Bolivia asked Venezuelan officials under the country’s leftist leader Nicolas Maduro to leave the country. Anez’s government also accused Cuba, once a close ally, of stoking unrest following Morales’ resignation.

The Anez administration on Sunday renamed the state newspaper “Bolivia.” Morales called it “Change.”

Violent protests on Friday around Cochabamba, a coca-growing region and stronghold of Morales’ supporters, left at least nine people dead, officials said.

The local ombudsman in the Cochabamba region said police had used live ammunition against protesters, prompting allegations of human rights abuses by security forces under Anez.

Anez has blamed Morales for stoking violence from abroad, and has said her government wishes to hold elections and meet with the opposition to halt protests.

Morales, in exile in Mexico, has struck a more conciliatory tone in recent days, saying he would sit out the next election in an interview with Reuters on Friday.

U.N. envoy Jean Arnault said a team would hold meetings with politicians and social groups this week to end the violence and push for “free and transparent elections.”

The European Union ambassador to Bolivia Leon de la Torre also met with Anez Sunday.

He said the E.U. would provide support during the “transition period” and work to ensure “credible elections…under the most stringent international standards.”

The United States, Brazil, Colombia, Britain and Germany have also recognized Anez´s interim government.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery in La Paz; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Daniel Wallis)

Gang violence hits Mexican leader’s ratings, U.S. warns of ‘parallel government’

Gang violence hits Mexican leader’s ratings, U.S. warns of ‘parallel government’
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Support for Mexico’s president has fallen some ten percentage points during a surge in gang-related violence, a poll showed on Friday, just as the U.S. ambassador voiced concern about “parallel government” by cartels in parts of the country.

The Nov. 6-11 survey of 1,000 Mexicans for newspaper El Universal showed President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador had an approval rating of 58.7%, down from 68.7% in late August. The poll had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

Although Lopez Obrador’s popularity remains strong compared with many world leaders, nearly one year into his administration, skepticism is growing about his performance on the back of several shocking security lapses to recently roil Mexico.

Last month the president took flak from critics when it emerged security forces had released a son of the notorious kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman after heavily-armed cartel gunmen overwhelmed security forces and briefly took control of the northern city of Culiacan.

That criticism was compounded by outrage and condemnation of the government from some U.S. lawmakers when suspected cartel gunmen massacred three mothers and six children of dual U.S.-Mexican nationality in northern Mexico last week.

U.S. President Donald Trump has responded by suggesting Mexico should join the United States to fight the cartels, fueling concerns that the American leader could use gang violence to put pressure on the Mexican government as he has over migration.

Speaking on Thursday, the U.S. ambassador in Mexico City, Christopher Landau, offered a terse assessment of the situation, saying there were parts of Mexico in which drug cartels formed a kind of “parallel government”.

“It can’t be that the territory where they have this kind of power continues to expand across the country,” Landau said on Thursday during an event in the northern city of Monterrey in remarks that were later broadcast on television.

“The future of Mexico is so important that if we don’t fight this now, it’s going to get much worse,” he added.

A dozen years of gang-fueled violence have claimed well over 200,000 lives in Mexico and murders hit record levels last year.

Taking office in December, the veteran leftist Lopez Obrador has pledged to address the root causes of crime and is pursuing a less confrontational approach to pacifying the country.

He quickly created a new militarized police force, or National Guard, to tackle the problem. But at the behest of Trump, thousands of its members have been sent to the borders of Mexico to help contain illegal immigration from Central America.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Some migrants waiting in Mexico for U.S. court hearings caught crossing illegally

By Ted Hesson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Roughly one in 10 migrants pushed back to Mexico to await U.S. court hearings under a Trump administration program have been caught crossing the border again, a top border official said on Thursday.

Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said during a White House briefing that migrants returned to Mexico under a program known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) have a 9% recidivism rate. Many of those migrants intend to seek asylum in the United States.

“Unfortunately, some of the individuals in the MPP program are actually going outside the shelter environment,” Morgan said. “They’re re-engaging with the cartels because they’re tired of waiting. And that’s when we’re hearing that some of that further abuse and exploitation is happening.”

Morgan said that around 50,000 people have been returned to Mexico under the program. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately respond to a request for more details on his comments.

The administration of Republican President Donald Trump launched the MPP program in January as part of a strategy to deter mostly Central American families from trekking to the U.S. border to seek asylum. Trump officials have argued the bulk of such claims for protection lack merit and that migrants are motivated by economic concerns.

Immigration advocates say asylum seekers sent to wait in Mexican border towns, for the weeks or months it takes for their cases to wind through backlogged immigration courts, face dangerous and possibly deadly conditions.

Migrants who claim fear of returning to Mexico can ask to stay in the United States for the duration of their court case. But just 1% of cases have been transferred out of the program, according to a Reuters analysis of federal immigration court data as of early October.

The administration has said the MPP program and other measures has helped lead to a decline in border arrests. In October, apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border fell for the fifth straight month, Morgan said.

The White House briefing followed a leadership change at the Homeland Security Department on Wednesday.

The Trump administration installed Chad Wolf, previously chief of staff to former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, as acting secretary. Wolf then announced that acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli – an immigration hard liner – would be elevated to the No. 2 position at the department.

(Reporting by Ted Hesson; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Lisa Shumaker)

Bolivia seeks new leader as fallen Morales reaches Mexico

Bolivia seeks new leader as fallen Morales reaches Mexico
By Monica Machicao and Stefanie Eschenbacher

LA PAZ/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Bolivia’s former leader Evo Morales landed in Mexico on Tuesday pledging to stay in politics as security forces back home quelled unrest over the long-serving leftist’s resignation and opponents sought an interim replacement to fill a power vacuum.

Thanking Mexico’s government for “saving his life,” Morales arrived to take up asylum in the country and repeated his accusation that his rivals had ousted him in a coup after violence broke out following a disputed election last month.

“As long as I am alive, we will remain in politics,” Morales told reporters in brief comments after disembarking the plane to be met by Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

Dressed in a short-sleeved blue shirt, Morales defended his time in government and said that if he were guilty any crime, it was to be indigenous and “anti-imperalist.”

Morales was then whisked away in a military helicopter, television footage showed. Mexican officials have not said where he will stay, citing security concerns.

Morales arrived in a Mexican Air Force plane from the central Bolivian town of Chimore, a stronghold of Morales supporters where the country’s first indigenous president retreated as his 14-year rule imploded.

The departure of Morales, the last of a wave of leftists who dominated Latin American politics at the start of the century, came after the Organization of American States declared on Sunday that there were serious irregularities during the Oct. 20 vote, prompting ruling party allies to quit and the army to urge him to step down.

Opposition lawmakers wanted to formally accept Morales’ resignation and start planning for a temporary leader ahead of a new vote. But their plans looked at risk as Morales’ Movement for Socialism (MAS) said it would boycott the meeting.

Residents of the highland capital La Paz, rocked by protests and looting since last month’s election, said they hoped politicians would succeed in finally restoring order.

“Democracy has been at risk and hopefully it will be resolved today,” said resident Isabel Nadia.

Morales’ flight out was far from simple.

Takeoff was delayed, with supporters surrounding the airport, then the plane was denied permission to fuel in Peru, Ebrard said. So it stopped instead in Paraguay before arriving in Mexico City just after 11 a.m. local time (1700 GMT).

“His life and integrity are safe,” Ebrard said, tweeting a photo of Morales alone in the jet with a downcast expression, displaying Mexico’s red, white and green flag across his lap.

In a region divided along ideological lines over Morales’ fall, Mexico’s leftist government has supported his accusations of a coup.

In La Paz, roadblocks were in place after soldiers and police patrolled into the night to stop fighting between rival political groups and looting that erupted after Morales’ resignation.

The charismatic 60-year-old former coca leaf farmer was beloved by the poor when he won power in 2006.

But he alienated some by insisting on seeking a fourth term, in defiance of term limits and a 2016 referendum in which Bolivians voted against him being allowed to do that.

(For graphic on timeline, see https://graphics.reuters.com/BOLIVIA-ELECTION/0100B30L25D/bolivia.jpg)

(Reporting by Monica Machicao, Daniel Ramos and Gram Slattery in La Paz, Daniela Desantis in Asuncion, Daina Beth Solomon, Julia Love and Diego Ore in Mexico City, Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Mitra Taj in Lima; Writing by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Daniel Wallis)

Mexico makes arrests in massacre of American women, children – minister

Mexico makes arrests in massacre of American women, children: minister
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico has made an unspecified number of arrests over last week’s massacre of three women and six children of dual U.S-Mexican nationality in the north of the country, Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said on Monday.

“There have been arrests, but it’s not up to us to give information,” Durazo told reporters in Mexico City.

The women and children from families of U.S. Mormon origin who settled in Mexico decades ago were killed last Monday on a remote dirt road in the state of Sonora by suspected drug cartel gunmen, sparking outrage and condemnation in the United States.

Durazo said that prosecutors in Sonora, as well as at the federal level, were in charge of the investigation.

However, a spokeswoman for the state government of Sonora said: “We don’t have that information.”

Mexico’s government has said it believes the victims were caught in the midst of a territorial dispute between an arm of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel and the rival Juarez Cartel.

On Sunday, Mexico’s government said it had asked the FBI to participate in the investigation into the killings.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Killed American family may have been ‘bait’ in Mexican cartel fight: relatives

Killed American family may have been ‘bait’ in Mexican cartel fight: relatives
By Lizbeth Diaz

BAVISPE, Mexico (Reuters) – The nine American women and children killed in northern Mexico were victims of a territorial dispute between an arm of the Sinaloa Cartel and a rival gang, officials said on Wednesday, and may have been used to lure one side into a firefight.

Members of breakaway Mormon communities that settled in Mexico decades ago, the three families were ambushed as they drove along a dirt track in Sonora state, leading to U.S. President Donald Trump urging Mexico and the United States to “wage war’ together on the drug cartels.

Accounts emerging of Monday morning’s slayings detailed the heroism of a surviving boy who walked for miles to get help for his siblings, and heavy gun battles in the remote hill area that lasted for hours into the night after the attack.

“We were deliberately targeted, used as bait to lure one cartel against another,” said Lafe Langford, a cousin of some of the victims, who grew up in the same Mormon village.

Hitmen opened fire on the three mothers and 14 children traveling from a village in Sonora to meet with relatives in neighboring Chihuahua state and Phoenix, Arizona.

When the killers struck, the families were spread out along a 12-mile (20 km) stretch of road near the border of the two states, according to Mexican authorities and the families.

As bullets began to pummel the first car, a white Chevrolet Suburban, Christina Marie Langford Johnson stepped out waving her arms to show that they were not gang members, according to a family statement based on reports from the surviving children.

Christina was shot dead. Her baby, Faith, survived the attack in a child seat that her mother appeared to have placed on the floor before she got out.

Gunfire also ripped into a second white Suburban, carrying Dawna Langford and nine children, some two kilometers back, authorities said. Dawna and two sons were killed.

Reuters video of the vehicle showed more than a dozen bullet holes in the roof and sides of the vehicle. Inside, blood was smeared across seats and children’s toys.

A third car, 18 km behind, was shot up and burst into flames, killing Rhonita Miller and her four children.

DRUG CARTEL RIVALRY

Some hours earlier, the La Linea arm of the Chihuahua-based Juarez Cartel sent gunmen to defend the state border area, after attacks in a nearby town by the Los Salazar faction of the rival Sinaloa Cartel, a top Mexican general told reporters.

The Juarez Cartel wanted the Sinaloa Cartel off its turf, General Homero Mendoza said. While no official explanation has been given for the killings, Mendoza and other officials say the gang may have mistaken the families’ SUVs for those of its rival.

The Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels have for years been at odds over lucrative routes in the border region used to move cocaine, heroin and other narcotics into the United States. Mexico has long requested that Washington do more to control demand for drugs. Mexico has unleashed its military against cartels since 2006 but despite the arrests or killings of leading traffickers, the campaign has failed to reduce violence. In fact, it has led to more killings as criminal groups fight among themselves.

Mendoza said the Miller car appeared to have exploded because of the gunfire. More than 200 spent shell casings were left behind.

Relatives of the victims rejected the mistaken identity theory, arguing that shell casings and personal belongings found near the torched car suggest the attackers came close and made sure everybody was dead before igniting the vehicle.

“They shot us up, burned our vehicles to send a smoke signal into the sky,” Langford said, arguing that the gang’s goal was to draw the Sinaloa gunmen into battle.

The families’ account of the attacks and subsequent efforts to recover the surviving children include reports of shooting from the hillsides that continued well after dusk.

A man was arrested in a nearby town in a truck carrying a .50 caliber Barrett rifle and other military-grade weaponry, but the government later said he was not linked to the murders.

The Mexican government countered Trump’s call by urging Washington to help stop the flow of American weapons south of the border, and Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said Remington shell casings of U.S. origin were found at the crime scene.

“That’s one of the most relevant details we can give you,” he told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday.

HEROIC WALK

When the gunmen shot dead his mother and two brothers, the uninjured 13-year-old Devin Langford hid six surviving siblings nearby and walked for 14 miles (23 km) to find a rescue party.

“After witnessing his mother and brothers being shot dead, Dawna (Langford)’s son Devin hid his six other siblings in the bushes and covered them with branches to keep them safe while he went for help,” the families said in their statement.

For 11 hours, relatives had no idea about what had happened to their loved ones.

The youngest of Devin’s siblings, 9-month old Oliver, was shot in the chest; 8-year-old Cody had bullet wounds to the jaw and the leg, while Xander, 4, had been hit in the back. Brothers Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2, lay dead.

When Devin failed to return, his 9-year-old sister Mckenzie, who was grazed in the arm, went after him and walked 10 miles before getting lost in the dark. Search parties later found her, the families said. Another sister, Kylie, was shot in the foot, while sibling Ryder was uninjured.

Nearby were the bodies of the Miller family, including 8-month-old twins Titus and Tiana.

“All shot and burned in their vehicle,” the statement said. “Only ashes and a few bones remain.”

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Canon, New Mexico and Lizbeth Diaz in Bavispe, Mexico; Additional reporting by Frank Jack Daniel, Sharay Angulo, Noe Torres and Dave Graham in Mexico City; Editing by Grant McCool)

Under armed escort, mourner convoys reach Mexican village for U.S. family funerals

Under armed escort, mourner convoys reach Mexican village for U.S. family funerals
By Jose Luis Gonzalez

BAVISPE, Mexico (Reuters) – Convoys of vehicles carrying relatives of a group of American women and children slain by unknown gunmen snaked through the dark from as far away as the United States into a remote Mexican region ahead of funerals for the victims to be held on Thursday and Friday.

Members of breakaway Mormon communities that settled in Mexico decades ago, the three dual-nationality women and six children were ambushed in Sonora state on Monday, leading to U.S. President Donald Trump urging Mexico and the United States to “wage war’ together on the drug cartels.

Late on Monday, dozens of SUV-style vehicles and pickup trucks escorted by Mexican National Guard outliers rolled into the municipality of Bavispe, where funerals will be held for two of the women and their families on Thursday.

“We came prepared to sleep on the floor, in tents. Whatever is needed to support the families who died in this terrorist act,” said Alex LeBaron, a former Congressman and cousin of one of the women, Rhonita Miller.

The remains of Miller and her children, whose bodies were reduced to ash and bones when the car they were in was shot at and went up in flames, are due to be buried in another village called Colonia LeBaron on Friday.

Alex LeBaron, who was with the convoy, told Mexican radio that mourners had come from the United States and across Mexico, bringing food and mattresses for the journey.

The LeBaron family, which came to Mexico in the early 20th century, now claims to be made up of more than 5,000 members.

Authorities and relatives say the killings appeared to be the work of the Juarez and the Sinaloa Cartels, who fight for control of lucrative drug routes that run through the sparsely populated mountainous areas into the United States.

Mexico has unleashed its military against cartels since 2006 but despite the arrests or killings of leading traffickers, the campaign has failed to reduce violence. Instead, it has led to more killings as criminal groups fight among themselves.

The victims came from prominent local families, including the LeBarons, Millers and Langfords.

Nestled in the fertile valleys of the Sierra Madre mountains just a few hours drive south from the U.S. border, the oldest communities stem from the late 1800s, when upheaval over polygamy in the Utah-based church led to their founding.

The settlements have marriage ties to others in the United States.

(The story is refiled to add Thursday as one date of funerals in first paragraph)

(Reporting by Jose Luis Gonzalez; Additional reporting by Noe Torres; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Nine Americans killed in Mexican ambush, Trump urges joint war on drug cartels

Nine Americans killed in Mexican ambush, Trump urges joint war on drug cartels
By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Gunmen killed nine women and children in the bloodiest attack on Americans in Mexico for years, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to offer to help the neighboring country wipe out drug cartels believed to be behind the ambush.

The nine people killed in Monday’s daytime attack at the border of Chihuahua and Sonora states belonged to the Mexican-American LeBaron, Langford, Miller and Johnson families, members of breakaway Mormon communities that settled in northern Mexico’s hills and plains decades ago.

A video posted on social media showed the charred and smoking remains of a vehicle riddled with bullet holes that was apparently carrying some of the victims on a dirt road when the attack occurred.

Christina Marie Langford Johnson and her daughter Faith Marie, part of a breakaway Mormon community who were attacked in Mexico, pose in an undated photo released by a family member November 5, 2019. Courtesy of Aaron Staddon via REUTERS

“This is for the record,” says a male voice speaking English in an American accent, off camera, choking with emotion.

“Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up,” the man says, apparently referring to Rhonita LeBaron, one of the three women who died in the attack.

Reuters could not independently verify the video.

A relative, Julian LeBaron, called the incident a massacre and said some family members were burned alive.

In a text message to Reuters he wrote that four boys, two girls and three women were killed. Several children who fled the attack were lost for hours in the countryside before being found, he said.

He said it was unclear who carried out the attack.

“We don’t know why, though they had received indirect threats. We don’t know who did it,” he told Reuters.

Five wounded children were airlifted to a hospital in Tucson, Arizona, and a boy in critical condition was transferred to a Phoenix hospital, Lafe Langford, whose aunt and cousin were killed in the attack, said by phone from Louisiana.

Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the nine, traveling in several SUVs, could have been victims of mistaken identity, given the high number of violent confrontations among warring drug gangs in the area.

But the LeBaron extended family has often been in conflict with drug traffickers in Chihuahua and other relatives of the victims said the killers surely knew who they were targeting.

“We’ve been here for more than 50 years. There’s no one who doesn’t know them. Whoever did this was aware. That’s the most terrifying,” Alex LeBaron, a relative, said in one of the villages inhabited by the extended family.

All of the dead were U.S. citizens, he told Reuters, and most also held dual citizenship with Mexico. They were attacked while driving on backroads in a convoy of cars containing the women along with 14 children, he said. Some were headed for Tucson airport to collect relatives.

State prosecutors in Sonora, where the dead were found in three separate locations, said ambushed family members had been planning to travel to the United States via Chihuahua.

The charred bodies of a woman and four children were found in a burnt Chevrolet Tahoe near the village of San Miguelito, while the corpses of a woman and two children were recovered in a white Suburban about 18 kilometers away, the statement said.

The body of the third woman was found about 15 meters (50 feet) from a Suburban near the Sonora-Chihuahua border.

Authorities are investigating whether a man arrested in Agua Prieta, Sonora with guns and ammunition could have been involved in the killings, prosecutors added.

The victims were members of the small community of La Mora, Sonora, set up decades ago by “pioneers” who broke away from the Mormon church, Langford said.

“They were targeted and they were killed on purpose,” said Langford, who grew up in La Mora and has a homestead there.

TIME TO ‘WAGE WAR’ -TRUMP

Trump has praised Lopez Obrador for combating cartel violence but said more needed to be done.

“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth,” Trump said in a tweet reacting to the massacre.

Later, he and Lopez Obrador spoke by phone, with the U.S. president offering help to ensure the perpetrators face justice.

Prior to the call, Lopez Obrador rejected what he called any foreign government intervention.

Mexico has used its military in a war on drug cartels since 2006. Despite the arrest or killing of leading traffickers, the campaign has not succeeded in reducing drug violence and has led to more killings as criminal groups fight among themselves.

Falko Ernst, senior analyst for the International Crisis Group in Mexico, said Trump’s tweet suggests he may be gearing up to pressure Mexico over security, especially with his campaign under way for re-election in November 2020.

“If he throws in his whole leverage, as we’ve seen with migration, then there is very little the Mexican government can do to hold its ground,” Ernst said.

Northwestern Mexico has been home to small Mormon and Mormon-linked communities of U.S. origin since the late 19th century. The early Mormon settlers in Mexico fled the threat of arrest in the United States for practicing polygamy. The practice is observed by a shrinking number of Mormons in Mexico.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Daina Beth Solomon and Andrew Hay; Additional reporting by Dave Graham, David Alire Garcia, Sharay Angulo, Adriana Barrera and Eric Beech; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Howard Goller and Gerry Doyle)

Nine Americans die in Mexican massacre, Trump proposes ‘war’ on drug cartels

Nine Americans die in Mexican massacre, Trump proposes ‘war’ on drug cartels
By Lizbeth Diaz

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Gunmen killed nine women and children in the bloodiest attack on Americans in Mexico for years, prompting U.S. President Donald Trump to offer to help the neighboring country wipe out drug cartels believed to be behind the ambush.

All nine people, Mexican-Americans killed in Monday’s daytime attack at the border of Chihuahua and Sonora, belonged to the LeBaron family, members of a breakaway Mormon community that settled in northern Mexico’s hills and plains decades ago.

Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said the nine, traveling in several SUVs, may have been victims of mistaken identity, given the high number of violent confrontations among warring drug gangs in the area.

“The convoy made up of suburban vans could have been confused with criminal groups that fight for control in the region,” Durazo said at a news conference alongside Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

A video posted on social media showed the charred and smoking remains of a vehicle riddled with bullet holes that was apparently carrying the victims when the attack occurred.

“This is for the record,” says a male voice speaking English in an American accent, off camera, choking up with emotion.

“Nita and four of my grandchildren are burnt and shot up.”

Reuters could not independently verify the video.

A family relative, Julian LeBaron, called the incident a “massacre” and said some family members were burned alive.

In a text message to Reuters he wrote that four boys, two girls and three women were killed. Several children who fled the attack were lost for hours in the countryside before being found, he said.

He said it was unclear who carried out the attack.

“We don’t know why, though they had received indirect threats. We don’t know who did it,” he told Reuters.

“My cousin was murdered with her children in the truck,” said Alex LeBaron, another relative in one of the villages inhabited by the extended family. He said all the victims were U.S. citizens, and most also held dual citizenship with Mexico.

TIME TO ‘WAGE WAR’ -TRUMP

Under Trump, the United States and Mexico have often been at loggerheads over trade, the U.S. president’s anti-immigration rhetoric and his plans to build a wall on their common border.

But Trump has praised Lopez Obrador, his Mexican counterpart who took office 11 months ago, for helping to reduce the flow of Central American migrants to the United States.

Trump tweeted that he would await a call from Lopez Obrador, urging him to accept U.S. assistance.

Lopez Obrador said he would call Trump on Tuesday about ways to cooperate on security but rejected what he called any foreign government intervention.

“I’ll speak with President Trump to thank him for his support, and to see if in cooperation agreements there’s the possibility of getting help,” he told the news conference. “I don’t think we need the intervention of a foreign government to deal with these cases,” he added.

Trump wrote on Twitter: “The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!”

“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth,” Trump added.

Mexico has used its military in a war on drug cartels since 2006 but despite the arrest or killing of leading traffickers the campaign has not succeeded in reducing drug violence. In fact, it has led to more killings as criminal groups fight among themselves.

The government has registered more than 250,000 homicides in the last dozen years, most of them related to the drug war.

Lopez Obrador has blasted the security strategy of previous Mexican governments, saying more than a decade of war against drug traffickers is officially over and he will seek alternative solutions.

“War is irrational. We believe in peace,” said Lopez Obrador, a leftist who took office last December.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI already work very closely with Mexico to combat the cartels.

In 2010, two members of the Chihuahua Mormon community, including one from the LeBaron family, were killed in apparent revenge after security forces tracked drug gang members. The Mormons had suffered widespread kidnappings before that.

Northwestern Mexico has been home to small Mormon and Mormon-linked communities with family ties to the United States since the late 19th century.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz; Additional reporting by Dave Graham, David Alire Garcia, Daina Beth Solomon and Sharay Angulo; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Howard Goller)

El Chapo’s son led dramatic rescue of his half brother in Mexico battle

El Chapo’s son led dramatic rescue of his half brother in Mexico battle
By Anthony Esposito and Ana Isabel Martinez

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Ivan Archivaldo Guzman, the leader of Los Chapitos wing of the Sinaloa Cartel, was behind the assault on security forces that prompted the release of his half-brother from a house in the city of Culiacan last week, a top Mexican official said.

The men’s father is Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most infamous drug kingpin, who himself slipped away from authorities on multiple occasions before being sentenced to life imprisonment in the United States this year.

Younger brother Ovidio Guzman was briefly captured by Mexican security forces on Oct. 17 in an upscale neighborhood of Culiacan, until hundreds of heavily-armed Sinaloa Cartel gunmen forced his release.

The botched raid has called into question Mexico’s security strategy and put pressure on President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has insisted that the release was necessary to protect the lives of civilians and security personnel.

Questions have circulated about the role of the older Guzman brother in launching the fierce counterattack led by gunmen in armored vehicles armed with mounted weapons that left parts of the city smoldering.

Late on Thursday, Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said Ivan Archivaldo had played a key part.

“He was one of those leading the mobilization of various criminal elements in Culiacan,” Durazo said, while denying reports that the elder brother had also been briefly captured.

“Ivan Archivaldo was not at the home that was taken over by (security) personnel who participated in this operation,” he said.

A senior security official told Reuters that Ovidio was found in the house with his partner, their two daughters, and two guards. The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The Sinaloa Cartel, along with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, are Mexico’s largest and most powerful drug trafficking organizations.

Since El Chapo left the scene, his partner Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada has taken on a coordinating “godfather” role overseeing several factions in the organization, an official at the U.S. Justice Department told Reuters.

Four brothers, led by Ivan Archivaldo, form one group collectively known as Los Chapitos, or “little Chapos.” El Chapo’s brother heads another unit, and veteran trafficker Rafael Caro-Quintero leads another, the official said. In a 2018 interview with a Mexican magazine, Caro-Quintero denied he was still a drug trafficker.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito; Additional reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez; Editing by Daniel Wallis)