MEXICO CITY (CNS) — A parish priest in western Mexico has warned of a dire situation in which warring drug cartels have caused hardship for the population, including widespread shortages of basics and blocked highways.

He also asked in an open letter why the police and military refused to intervene as communities became incommunicado.

“There’s a military base with hundreds of soldiers (in Coalcomán) which is ‘waiting for orders’ while we’re being destroyed,” Father Jorge Luis Martínez Chávez said of the population in Coalcomán, a town of farmers and timber cutters some 385 miles west of Mexico City.

“People are experiencing uncertainty due to violence: cars being burned, highways blockaded, killings everywhere, forced exiles, destruction of the highway to Michoacán, destruction of telephone lines, little internet access and (being) surrounded by armed people defending their interests,” the letter continued.

Father Martínez, pastor of the St. James the Apostle Parish, said people had been run out of eight small communities in the municipality. He also compared the situation to that of another nearby town, Aguililla, which has often been incommunicado due to conflict.

On Aug. 16, Father Martínez celebrated Mass with residents on a highway — in front of a trench dug by one of the cartels, which impeded passage — and prayed for peace.

Archbishop Franco Coppola, the apostolic nuncio to Mexico, visited Aguililla in April to celebrate Mass and send the message, “The church is with you.” In July, Pope Francis sent a letter to the Diocese of Apatzingán expressing solidarity.

The letter comes as the conflict in a region of western Michoacán state known as Tierra Caliente worsens and local militias form to fend off drug cartels. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel has attempted to take territory in Tierra Caliente, but has been unable to displace an alliance of local cartels and local militias, according to local priests and media reports.

Coalcomán came into the news after Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, leader of the Jalisco cartel, threatened violence against prominent news anchor Azucena Uresti of Milenio TV for a story her newscast aired on the violence in Coalcomán. Oseguera, speaking through a statement read Aug. 9 on a video featuring armed and masked men, considered the story unfair.

Father Andrés Larios, the former parish priest in Coalcomán, said: “What we are always asking ourselves, everyone is asking themselves is, where is the government? Where is the national guard? Where is the Michoacán police?”

“They’ve completely abandoned the town,” he said.