A Sad Turn of Events in Michoacan, AKA: How to Survive a Gunfight

As if Michoacan is not beautiful enough, its forests also host one of the world's greatest migrations, the monarchs.

As if Michoacan is not beautiful enough, its forests also host one of the world's greatest migrations, the wintering monarchs.

Last month we traveled throughout the exquisitely handsome Mexican state of Michoacan, which I chronicled in Way Off the Beaten Path: The Coast of Michoacan, Mexico and Come With Me to Patzcuaro, Michoacan.

So it was with a sad heart that I read about a drug cartel uprising in the state this past weekend, in which at least a dozen police officers were murdered. The cartels targeted police stations across the state, as detailed in this post from The Zapata Tales, written by a blogger who lives in Patzcuaro:

“It looked like Baghdad.  There were bullet holes in the police station, the windows, the walls. Across the street, sitting next to a gas pump where some poor sap was likely getting a fillup, sat a silver Meriva like the one we once owned. Full of bullet holes too, shredded metal.”

The attacks were in retaliation for the police arresting a top cartel leader.

And, many of the attacks were on the very streets Brendan, Charlie and I rode on, which, when we visited, were flanked by scenery that was about as close to paradise as I’ve ever seen (Michoacan is frequently regaled as Mexico’s most beautiful state, and I not only agree with that assessment but would argue it’s one of the most beautiful places in the world). My biggest fear at the time was falling mangos or a flat tire (or getting stuck in the sand at the beach). My home is now full of art from Michoacan, some of the most amazing I’ve seen in my travels across 22 states in this country. We never once felt unsafe, although cartels have been operating in this state for some time.

The cartels are ruthless in their efforts to supply drug-hungry Americans, but most of the violence in recent years has been much  closer geographically to my friends and family in Texas than to me here in Mexico City.

This time, though, the recent violence was abnormal enough that I received this email this afternoon, from the U.S. Embassy Warden (an email alert service I signed up for after first moving here). I’m at no immediate risk, so the warning doesn’t frighten me, it saddens me. Tell me: How long will Mexico continue to suffer from this violence? What will it take to stop drug-related violence? How many people have to die? Is it really that important to keep drugs illegal?

The U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens residing or traveling in the state of Michoacan, Mexico, to be aware of recent violent attacks targeting state and federal police officials, and wishes to remind U.S. citizens of the Travel Alert for Mexico dated February 20, 2009.  Several Mexican police officials have been killed at various locations throughout the state.  The U.S. Embassy is not aware of any attempts to target U.S. citizens with this violence; however, citizens are advised to maintain awareness of their surroundings when travelling throughout the state and to avoid large crowds and demonstrations.

Actions to Take if Caught in the Middle of a Gunfight/Gunfire

The U.S. Embassy takes this opportunity to remind U.S. citizens of guidance sent on October 22, 2008, recommending the following courses of action to take if you find yourself in a situation in or near gunfire:

–       Always be aware of your surroundings.
–     Whenever possible, carry a cell-phone with up to date contact information for emergencies.
–    When gunfire/explosions are heard, immediately move to a safe area with good cover.  For example, look for something substantial to hide behind, seek cover in a room made of solid construction (e.g. concrete, steel, etc.), stay away from doors and windows, and do not venture out to try and observe the conflict.
–      Immediately convey the sense of danger/threat to those around you.
–     Do not attempt to move to a vehicle if you are in a safe area. Remain there until local security tells you that it is safe to move.
–      Always carry information about your personal medical needs.


  1. DKN · July 15, 2009

    “Tell me: How long will Mexico continue to suffer from this violence? What will it take to stop drug-related violence? How many people have to die? Is it really that important to keep drugs illegal?”

    I feel the exact same way about the casualties of the “drug war” in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world. The prohibition of all drugs is complete nonsense and has been a disaster from the beginning.

  2. Alice · July 15, 2009

    This weekend’s violence really saddened me more than others–closer to home, perhaps?? I see people mocking the police daily, but I give them props for putting themselves out there for so little respect and pay.

  3. robin · July 15, 2009

    I’m with DKN. There are a ton of American’s who would love to see drugs legalized and the violence stopped. But no one cares what the people want.

  4. Betty Victory · July 15, 2009

    A very good blog article, Joy. But, naturally, it scares hell out of me.

    One does have to wonder where this is all going. Does the Mexican government have the resources to stop this? I think legalization of drugs may HAVE to be the answer. It looks like the only way to stop the ruthless/greedy drug lords.

    There needs to be much more cooperation between Mexico and the U.S. on this problem.

  5. Steven · July 15, 2009

    So sad. One of the goals I look forward to the most on my list is going to Mexico to witness the monarch migration. I love Mexico (I’ve been twice) but what’s happening there is so sad. I hope it ends soon. It’s such a beautiful country and I hate to see it’s imagine marred by the cartel.

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