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Mexico’s Colima state has become a drug war flashpoint

October 3, 2016
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Alma Hernandez’s friends created this banner calling for peace in Colima after she was murdered in April.

Alma Hernandez’s dreams of becoming an architect and building a future with her boyfriend, Pedro Navarro, were irrevocably crushed one sunny afternoon when they were gunned down outside a Walmart in their hometown of Colima.

The pair, both aged 21, had been together for five years. They had recently opened a hotdog stand to help support Hernandez’s family following the death of her father. None of that mattered to the unidentified gunmen who opened fire on April 20, killing both in broad daylight.

“Alma was very kind, intelligent and dedicated, a really fun person to be with,” Hernandez’s friend and classmate Livier Castro told Al Jazeera. The killings remain unsolved but Castro suspects this was simply “a case of bad luck” in a state that has quietly become the most murderous place in Mexico.

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Rocio Cruz, Livier Castro and Joel Vargas began campaigning for peace in Colima after Hernandez’s death .

Located halfway up Mexico’s Pacific coastline, Colima is the least populated of the nation’s 32 states. It is rarely mentioned alongside notorious drug war hotspots like Tamaulipas, Guerrero or Michoacan, yet federal records show Colima suffered 46 homicides per 100,000 residents in the first seven months of the year, by far the highest rate in Mexico and double the state’s rate for 2015.

Many killings have been attributed to feuding drug cartels, but local authorities have not explained a wave of political assassinations and have failed to stem the violence that is also claiming innocent lives.

Marines guard 806 kilos of cocaine they seized from a speedboat approaching the port of Manzanillo in August.

Marines guard 806 kilos of cocaine they seized from a speedboat approaching the port of Manzanillo in August.

A wave of violent crime

A steamy city brimming with tropical greenery, Colima’s eponymous state capital sits beneath a deep blue sky broken only by the beige smoke drifting from a nearby volcano.

The city’s shops, bars and restaurants are bustling, creating the impression that daily life has not been overly disrupted. Yet the rate of extortion has almost tripled since last year, with Colima now recording Mexico’s second highest number of cases per inhabitant.

One of Mexico’s largest and busiest ports, Manzanillo is believed to be at the centre of a turf war between the rival Jalisco and Sinaloa drug cartels.

One of Mexico’s largest and busiest ports, Manzanillo is believed to be at the centre of a turf war between the rival Jalisco and Sinaloa drug cartels.

Local journalist Pedro Zamora told Al Jazeera the violence is occurring increasingly close to home: “I think most of the population have witnessed or been very close to an incident. It hasn’t caused mass panic yet but there’s a sense of fear and uncertainty.”

Click here to read this feature in full at Al Jazeera English.

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