A Quandary for Mexico as Vigilantes Rise

January 16, 2014

Mexican Army DetentionsThe New York Times, 01/15/2014

Word spread quickly: The army was coming to disarm the vigilante fighters whom residents viewed as conquering heroes after they swept in and drove out a drug gang that had stolen property, extorted money and threatened to kill them. They even had to leave flowers and other offerings at a shrine to the gang’s messianic leader.

Farmers locked arms with vigilantes to block the dusty two-lane road leading here. The soldiers demanded to be let in; people begged them to leave. Tempers flared, and rocks were thrown. The soldiers fired into the air, and then, residents said, into a crowd. At least two people were killed on Tuesday, officials and residents said.

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In Mexico, self defense groups battle a cartel

September 10, 2013

The Washington Post, 9/10/2013
m16 gun closeup

An audacious band of citizen militias battling a brutal drug cartel in the hills of central Mexico is becoming increasingly well-armed and coordinated in an attempt to end years of violence, extortion and humiliation.

What began as a few scattered self-defense groups has spread in recent months to dozens of towns across Michoacan, a volatile state gripped by the cultlike Knights Templar, a drug gang known for taxing locals on everything from cows to tortillas and executing those who do not comply.

The army deployed to the area in May, but the soldiers are mostly manning checkpoints. Instead, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing the awkward fact that a group of scrappy locals appears to be chasing the gangsters away, something that federal security forces have not managed in a decade.

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Mexican judge orders release of 5 high-ranking army officials accused of aiding a drug cartel

July 8, 2013

justice - gavel and bookAssociated Press, 7/4/2013

A Mexican judge on Thursday ordered the release of five high-ranking army officials accused of aiding a drug cartel after federal prosecutors dropped organized crime charges against them citing a lack of evidence. It’s the latest drug trafficking case against military officers started during former President Felipe Calderon’s administration to fall apart.

Judge Raul Valerio Ramirez said he ordered the immediate release of Gen. Roberto Dawe, Gen. Ricardo Escorcia, Gen. Ruben Perez, Lt. Col Silvio Hernandez and Maj. Ivan Reyna from a maximum security prison in Mexico state where they have been held since their arrest last year. The officers were charged with protecting members of the Beltran Leyva cartel. Federal anti-drug prosecutor Rodrigo Archundia Barrientos dropped charges in the case after concluding that witness testimony was not enough to sustain the case, Valerio Ramirez said in a statement.

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Mexico Soldiers Free 165 Kidnapped Migrants

June 7, 2013

soldiersThe Wall Street Journal, 6/6/2013

Mexican soldiers stormed a residence near the U.S. border and rescued 165 migrants, mostly Central Americans, who had been kidnapped by criminal gangs and held for ransom for up to three weeks, a Mexican official said Thursday. The rescue occurred Tuesday in the northern town of Díaz Ordaz, Tamaulipas—near McAllen, Texas—after authorities received an anonymous tip that armed men had been seen guarding a house in the town, said Eduardo Sánchez, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, which coordinates public security. Mr. Sánchez said soldiers detained one gunman, who ran inside the safe house on seeing the arrival of the army. Authorities didn’t offer any details on who might be behind the mass kidnapping.

The state of Tamaulipas where the migrants were held is home to drug cartels and organized-crime groups, including the Zetas group that authorities blamed for massacring 72 migrants from Central and South America in 2010 after they refused to work for the gang, which in addition to running drugs is involved in kidnapping and extortion. U.S. and Mexican officials say the criminal gangs often work with corrupt authorities, discouraging citizen complaints against the houses. There have been reports in Mexican media of criminal gangs brutally executing citizens suspected of providing such tips.

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Mexico’s military plays a necessary role in internal security

June 4, 2013

mexican armyBaker Institute Blog, 6/4/2013

Mexico is embroiled in a violent and persistent drug war. Criminal cartels are battling each other and challenging the state for control of both the lucrative narcotics trade and territory. While the military has been involved in narcotics eradication for at least four decades, its role in combating the cartels rose in prominence during the administration of Felipe Calderón.

Calderón turned to the military for two reasons: first, the Mexican police lacked capacity to address the situation and second, the cartels were actively challenging the state in many places. The police were incapable of responding to the high-intensity violence. The police lacked weapons, training and doctrine for addressing these threats. In many cases, they were also suborned by the cartels.  Corruption and impunity hobbled the rule of law and democratic governance.

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Mexico cartel dominates, torches western state

May 24, 2013

Photo: Brian Griffin Associated Press, 5/22/2013

The farm state of Michoacan is burning. A drug cartel that takes its name from an ancient monastic order has set fire to lumber yards, packing plants and passenger buses in a medieval-like reign of terror. The Knights Templar cartel is extorting protection payments from cattlemen, lime growers and businesses such as butchers, prompting some communities to fight back, taking up arms in vigilante patrols.

Lime picker Alejandro Ayala chose to seek help from the law instead. After the cartel forced him out of work by shutting down fruit warehouses, he and several dozen co-workers, escorted by Federal Police, met on April 10 with then-state Interior Secretary Jesus Reyna, now the acting governor of the state in western Mexico. The 41-year-old father of two only wanted to get back to work, said his wife, Martha Elena Murguia Morales.

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Mexico’s Self-Defense Squads Refuse To Disarm Despite Army Presence In Michoacan

May 24, 2013

m16 gun closeupAgence France Presse, 5/23/2013

Farmers wearing bulletproof vests and toting assault rifles ride in pick-up trucks emblazoned with the word “self-defense” to protect this rural Mexican town from a drug cartel. The government deployed thousands of troops to the western state of Michoacan this week, but in some towns like Coalcoman, population 10,000, vigilantes are wary of putting down their weapons until they feel safe again. “We won’t drop our guard until we see results,” Antonio Rodriguez, a 37-year-old avocado grower and member of the community force, told AFP.

Authorities detained four members of a self-defense group in another town called Buenavista on Wednesday, angering about 200 residents, some wielding sticks, who surrounded some 20 soldiers to demand their release. The situation was defused about five hours later, when two of the detainees were released, according to an interior ministry source. Local media reported that all four had been released. Interior Minister Miguel Angelo Osorio Chong said earlier that the soldiers were merely having a “dialogue” with the residents to resolve the dispute, but he insisted that the authorities would disarm and detain anyone with a weapon.

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Entrenched Mexico drug mafia, vigilantes battle for control of agricultural Michoacan state

May 23, 2013

Michoacan, Mexico Photo by Flickr user Scott Clark find link to his photoAssociated Press, 5/22/2013

Help finally arrived Sunday when thousands of soldiers rolled in to restore order. The government of President Enrique Pena Nieto says troops will stay in Michoacan until every citizen lives in peace. But the offensive, headed by Secretary of Defense Salvador Cienfuegos, looks a lot like failed operations launched previously by former President Felipe Calderon, who started his first assault on organized crime in Michoacan shortly after taking office in late 2006.

Calderon was trying to stop drug cartels from morphing into mafias controlling all segments of society. But that’s exactly what has happened, as they maintain country roads, control the local economy and mete out justice for common crimes. In the Tierra Caliente, a remote agricultural region, fire has been a favored weapon of the cartel. On the highway between Coalcoman and La Ruana, the ruins of three sawmills torched by the cartel still smoldered this week.

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Mexico launches military push to restore order in Michoacan state

May 22, 2013

ArmyLos Angeles Times, 5/21/2013

The Mexican government poured army troops — and high-level delegations — into western Mexico on Tuesday in a bid to take back control of a region long besieged by a deadly drug cartel. The operation in the Pacific state of Michoacan is the first major military deployment targeting drug traffickers to be ordered by the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which is still struggling to publicly define its security strategy six months after assuming leadership of this violent country.

Michoacan was probably chosen because it was fast spiraling into chaos. Parts of the state were awash in lawlessness, crippled by a cartel calling itself the Knights Templar, which in recent weeks blocked roads, torched businesses that refused to pay protection money and killed resisters. Entire villages were cut off, some reported to be desperately short on supplies. In response and feeling abandoned or ignored by authorities, groups of armed citizens attempted to fight back. But they often proved no match for the Knights Templar and were eager to see the army arrive.

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Besieged Mexican town cheers arrival of soldiers

May 21, 2013

Mexican army2Associated Press, 5/20/2013

Residents of a western Mexico area who endured months besieged by a drug cartel cheered the arrival of hundreds of Mexican soldiers Monday. People in La Ruana in Michoacan state lined the main road to greet more than a dozen troop transports and heavily armed Humvees with applause and shouts of joy. The town’s supplies had been blocked after the Knights Templars cartel declared war on the hamlet. The cartel dominates much of the state, demanding extortion payments from businessmen and storeowners, and even low-wage workers.

In February, the town formed self-defense squads to kick the cartel out, drawing the wrath of the gang. Convoys of cartel gunmen attacked the town, which was forced to throw up stone barricades and build guard posts. Supplies like gasoline, milk and cooking gas began to run low as cartel gunmen threatened to burn any trucks bringing in goods. On Monday, hundreds of soldiers moved in, erecting checkpoints on the highway leading into La Ruana and setting up an operating base in the town.

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