Bloody clash in Mexican hamlet kills 4 villagers and 10 gunmen, including drug cartel's leader

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MEXICO CITY (AP) — A clash between gunmen from a notoriously violent drug cartel and residents of a small farming community in central Mexico left 14 people dead, including the cartel's leader, authorities said Saturday.

Seven others were injured and still being treated for wounds.

Dramatic video of the fight Friday posted on social media showed villagers in cowboy hats with sickles and hunting rifles chasing down suspected gang members amid bursts of automatic gunfire.

Police in the State of Mexico, which abuts Mexico City, said the bloodshed occurred in the hamlet of Texcaltitlan, about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of the capital.

Officials said 10 of the dead were members of the violent Familia Michoacana drug cartel, including its leader, Rigoberto de la Sancha Santillán, known as “El Payaso” or “The Clown.” Four others killed were village residents. The cartel has been dominant in the area for many years.

The video appeared to show the attackers wore military-style uniforms, some with helmets. Villagers apparently set their bodies and vehicles on fire.

Local media said Familia Michoacana gunmen had showed up in the village earlier demanding local farmers pay a per-acre (hectare) extortion fee.

Drug cartels in Mexico have been known to extort money from almost any licit or illicit business that they can, sometimes attacking or burning ranches, farms or stores that refuse to pay.

Mexico State Gov. Delfina Gómez and other local leaders condemned the violence. They noted that the alarming flash of violence was a product of regional violence that has been brewing for years. She assured locals that maintaining order was among her top priorities.

“These events do not paralyze us, on the contrary, they reaffirm our determination to improve security conditions in our beloved state, rest assured that we will continue working so that events like this are not repeated," she said in a press conference on Saturday. “You are not alone, we are with you."

With a presidential election coming in June, the clash soon turned political.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador attributed the violence to drug consumption and neglect by his predecessors.

Previous governments "never took care of young people. That’s why they got pulled in and ended up in criminal ranks. You have to shower them with a lot of love," López Obrador said in a Saturday speech.

Meanwhile, presidential hopeful Xóchitl Gálvez, who is going up against López Obrador's party, blamed the violence on the president's “hugs not bullets” security strategy, which she claimed leave rural Mexicans abandoned.

“The hugs, I insist, have been for the criminals, and the bullets for citizens,” she said at a news conference.

The Familia Michoacana is known for its brazen ambushes of police as well as the the 2022 massacre of 20 townspeople in the town of Totolapan in neighboring Guerrero state. The attack killed the town’s mayor, his father and 18 other men.