MORELIA, Mexico – The bound bodies of six men were found dumped on a street Friday in the western Mexico state of Michoacan, where authorities have claimed to be making headway against drug gang violence.
The bodies were found next to a hand-lettered sign in which a drug cartel claimed responsibility for the killings.
The Michoacan state prosecutors' office said in a statement that the bodies found in the city of Uruapan had bullet wounds. Photos showed the men's heads had been wrapped in what appeared to be packing tape, and their hands were bound behind their backs.
A sign left next to the bodies made an apparent reference to the New Generation drug cartel: "We are here now, and we are here to save you, Respectfully, the Michoacan New Generation Cartel."
New Generation is based in the neighboring state of Jalisco, and had been battling the Michoacan-based Knights Templar cartel.
The Knights Templar gang was partly expelled from Michoacan by an armed vigilante movement and the Jalisco gang appears to be trying to move in.
Prosecutors also reported finding the body of Aquiles Gomez, believed to be the brother of the Knights Templar's top remaining leader, Servando Gomez alias "La Tuta," or the Teacher.
The body was found with a bullet wound in the Pacific coast port city of Lazaro Cardenas.
Servando Gomez remains at large, and is believed to be hiding in the mountains of Michoacan
Following the vigilante uprising against the Knights Templar in early 2013, the federal government stepped up army and police presence in Michoacan and effectively deputized many of the vigilantes.
Despite those efforts, many Michoacan natives say the security situation in the state remains grim.
"It is hasn't improved; this has all been cosmetic," said writer and activist Homero Aridjis. "There has been a political strategy, of declaring this (the security crisis) is over by decree."
Aridjis said some parts of the largely agricultural state has come to resemble the wild west, with roving bands of thieves stealing horses and cattle from farm families.
"This is destroying the farm economy, which is vital," Aridjis said.