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AP team untangles violence behind largest displacement of people in decades in southern Mexico

Soldiers patrols past closed stores in Tila, Chiapas state, Mexico, Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Residents are fleeing the town due to organized crime-related violence. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)


An all-formats AP team untangled the complicated forces and history behind the largest displacement of people in southern Mexico in decades.

Through interviews with the displaced, local clergy, and even the men who admitted to setting the fires that set off the exodus, correspondent María Verza, photographer Fernando Llano, and video stringer Raúl Vera explained the complex social forces at work. The southern Mexican state of Chiapas has been roiled for the past year by the incursion of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels. The cartels appeared to be taking advantage of existing disputes over land and political power in a rural state that borders Guatemala. By co-opting existing armed groups and stoking rivalries, they created proxies to help them gain control of valuable smuggling routes for drugs, weapons, and migrants. In early June, men set fire to houses in Tila. Three days passed with terrified families hiding in their homes before the army arrived. Once they did, thousands fled. The displaced filled shelters in surrounding villages and, two weeks later, were still afraid to return.

That an armed group could cause the displacement of thousands of people in Latin America’s second-largest economy in 2024 is one of the major incongruities in modern Mexico. AP’s story went beyond just the news that thousands of people had fled to explain the historic and recent forces behind it. Verza, Llano, and Vera documented the genuine fear of people who feel there is nowhere to turn for help in a total vacuum of authority.

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