Police Officers Have Guns Taken Away, Armed With Slingshots

In this file photo, a demonstrator uses a slingshot during a protest in Caracas, Venezuela on July 26, 2017. Alvarado's police resort to slingshots to fight crime after their guns were confiscated. REUTERS/Marco Bello

As security forces battle the worst wave of violence Mexico has seen for years, a police department on the country's Gulf Coast has been stripped of its guns and armed with slingshots.

The police department in Alvarado in Veracruz has been disarmed by state authorities until all of its officers fully complete training, leaving the team wielding the hand-powered weapons, the Guardian reported.

The guns were confiscated because only 30 of Alvarado's 130 officers had passed the control tests making them fit for service. In protest at their disarmament, Alvarado's Mayor Bogar Ruiz Rosas decided to equip them with a new set of weapons.

Ruiz claimed the decision to disarm the officers was a political one, timed ahead of the state and national July 1 elections. "This can only be understood as something political and we have to be prepared to do work in a professional manner," the mayor said, as he presented each officer with a slingshot and a small bag of rocks.

Ruiz is a member of the Ecologist Green Party of Mexico, an ally of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party. The incumbents are expected to perform badly in the elections, having presided over growing influence of the country's drug cartels and the associated rampant violence.

Veracruz's governor, Miguel Angel Yunes Linares, belongs to the National Action Party. His son is standing in Sunday's elections to replace his father as governor. Yunes denied Ruiz's accusations, claiming the seizure of the weapons was simply because the police had not been properly trained.

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As the U.S.-backed war on drugs fragmented large cartels and set their successors against each other, the country has been awash with violence. Last year, almost 29,000 people were killed, the highest toll since records began 20 years ago. This year, the toll could well pass 30,000.

The long fingers of the cartels reach deep into Mexican politics, and the security services are not immune. Accusations that politicians and police departments are in the pockets of the drug gangs are common, but rarely result in investigations or criminal prosecutions. In November 2017, a Texas court heard how police and officials in Coahuila state allowed the brutal Los Zetas cartel to murder hundreds of its enemies in exchange for millions in bribes.

A policeman stands guard on a plot of land where skulls were found at unmarked graves on the outskirts of Veracruz, Mexico, on March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

One of the most notorious incidents came in Guerrero state in 2014, when 43 students were abducted by police and handed over to a local cartel. The gang then executed the captives and burned their bodies. The investigation into the massacre is ongoing.

Veracruz has suffered its own share of horror in the past decade. In 2011, 50 women went missing over the space of three nights in different parts of the state. Last year, a mass grave containing the remains of at least 250 people was discovered on the outskirts of Veracruz city. At least 20 journalists have also been murdered in the state over the past 10 years. The slingshot ceremony itself took place close to where 47 skulls were found in a mass grave, news website Animal Political reported.

Government corruption—which often runs hand in glove with cartel activities—is also a blight on Mexico, and Veracruz. Yunes took over as governor from Javier Duarte, who was arrested on corruption charges. Duarte's former prosecutor and public security secretary have both been accused of involvement in planning forced disappearances.