MORELIA – A government media tour to promote tourism in southwestern Mexico went awry when machete-wielding Indians briefly kidnapped 13 reporters on the trip, officials said Sunday. Fifteen people trying to film a beer commercial were also abducted.
Nobody was harmed during the abductions Saturday, said a Michoacan state government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak to the media. Government officials were still negotiating Sunday to recover the cameras and other media equipment stolen by the Nahua Indians.
The indigenous communal landowners were upset that Grupo Modelo, the maker of Corona beer, had not asked their permission to film the commercial on their property, said the official.
They first kidnapped the Mexican reporters after mistaking them for the Grupo Modelo team, the official said. The Nahua Indians released the journalists after about three hours, then kidnapped the Grupo Modelo filmmakers who arrived in the area later. They too were released after several hours.
Passions run high over territorial issues in rural pockets of Mexico, particularly in indigenous communities. Last month, gunmen opened fire on a group of European and Mexican rights activists, journalists and teachers union representatives who were attempting to reach a Triqui Indian village in central Mexico besieged by rival political factions. Two activists from Finland and Mexico were killed.
The Nahua Indians, holding machetes, confronted the journalists Saturday afternoon on a coastal highway between the port city of Lazaro Cardenas and the town of Aquila, said Alejandro Saldana Ortiz, the deputy director of the local Quadratin newspaper, which had a reporter on the trip. Two government officials were also among the group.
The reporters, cameramen and photographers had just finished a boat trip, part of a tour meant to highlight the sparkling Michoacan coastline, Saldana said. The indigenous group questioned the journalists and two government officials for several hours about whether they belonged to the Grupo Modelo team, he said. They were all released unharmed but the Indians refused to return cameras and other equipment.
Phones rang unanswered Sunday at the offices of Grupo Modelo.
Brutal drug gang violence has hurt tourism in Michoacan, a state known for its picturesque colonial capital, beaches and Monarch butterfly sanctuary.
The state is a stronghold of La Familia, a cartel known for beheading its rivals and staging bold attacks against government security forces.
The U.S. State Department has issued a travel warning urging U.S. citizens “to exercise extreme caution when traveling in Michoacan.”