Mexican vigilante groups in the western state of Michoacan have pledged not to enter more cities, municipal seats or other urban areas, authorities said. They made those commitments in a meeting Friday in Apatzingan with the federally appointed commissioner for security and development in Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, the Government Secretariat said in a statement. These militias will only be present in designated checkpoints, always working jointly with federal forces, and must receive permission from authorities before making “any movements whatsoever,” the statement read.
Nearly a year after the vigilante movement arose in Michoacan, Mexico, the militias are now suffering divisions over the thorny issue of the integration of former Knights Templar members into their ranks. Divisions in the self-defense movement began to emerge following an agreement that Estanislao Beltran, a member of the Council of Citizen Self-Defense Forces, allegedly made so that Buenavista Tomatlan Mayor Luis Torres Chavez, who was pushed out by the vigilantes last May after blaming them for his brother’s murder, could return to the town after nearly a year of absence. Vigilante leader Jose Manuel Mireles is also set to return to the region in coming days.
Three brotherhoods are struggling for control of Apatzingán, a dusty town in the south-western Mexican state of Michoacán. One is deadly: the Knights Templar drug gang. One espouses vigilantism: the armed “self-defence” militias who on February 8th helped drive the Templars out of their stronghold. The third is the most powerful: a young and preppy group of federal-government employees sent in by President Enrique Peña Nieto to retake control of Michoacán after tension between Knights Templars and vigilantes threatened to spin out of control.
Many of this third group served under Mr Peña when he was governor of the state of Mexico in 2005-11. They have known each other for years and banter like friends at a tennis club. Their insertion into Michoacán reflects a wider trend in Mexican politics: the resurrection of an old but effective style of presidential rule.
Journalist Ioan Grillo described Michoacán as bizarre scene, where autodefensas and criminal groups vie for control of towns and municipios. In their wake, they leave an atmosphere reminiscent of what occurs in the aftermath of life altering events such as massive social upheaval or a natural disaster. He described cartel violence in Mexico as clandestine. Killings occur, the perpetrators disappear, and the poison remains mostly hidden. In Michoacán, however, the poison has surfaced.
Dudley Althaus noted that portraying Mexico as a failed state at the national level would be inaccurate and exaggerated, but mentioned that Michoacán could in fact be viewed as a failed state. Althaus points to the lack of action from the government at both the local and federal level as an underlying cause of the rise of the autodefensas. “In Michoacan, the police don’t police and the prosecutors don’t prosecute. The autodefensas have filled a void left by the government” said Althaus.
Both journalists shed light on the composition and structure of the movement. Althaus noted that many participants in these groups are young men originally from Michoacán who have spent substantial time in the U.S. as migrants (many with ties to gangs), and have now returned to Mexico. Grillo noted that they have armed themselves with weapons purchased in the U.S., and many are supported by wealthy farmers and businessmen who have chosen to invest in them, rather than acquiesce to the extortion tactics of organized crime.
Grillo and Althaus each expressed their concern about the rise of the movement and its ultimate goals. Dudley indicated that the government now seemed to be pursuing a strategy of “If you can’t beat them, enlist them” referencing the recent decision to register weapons and individuals who are participating in the movement. Grillo noted the challenges this poses for the government by creating an impossible situation where direct conflict, disarmament, and ignorance all represent ineffective strategies for addressing the movement.
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Hundreds of vigilantes, backed up by armoured vehicles and troops, arrived in Apatzingan on Saturday. They have also set up roadblocks around the city, in western Mexico. The cartel controls much of the drug trafficking in the area, carrying out killings and kidnappings and extorting money from local people.
Vigilante leaders, who have joined the official security forces, and the army have been searching house by house for leaders of the Knights Templar. Some arrests have been made, including the brother of one of the organisation’s top leaders, according to local reports. The vigilantes “will be in charge of security in Apatzingan”, Michoacan deputy government secretary Fernando Cano told AFP news agency.
“Self-defense” groups confronting a drug cartel in the western state of Michoacan have agreed to join government law enforcement forces after months of firefights with gang members, many times as federal police and troops stood by. The government announced Monday that it had reached a deal with vigilante leaders to incorporate the armed civilian groups into old and largely forgotten quasi-military units called the Rural Defense Corps. Vigilante groups estimate their numbers at 20,000 men under arms.
“The self-defense forces will become institutionalized, when they are integrated into the Rural Defense Corps,” the Interior Department said in a statement. The rise in fighting proved an embarrassment for President Enrique Pena Nieto, drawing criticism that the administration brought on the rise of the armed groups by failing to stop the cartel’s abuses, and the government hopes the agreement will help restore order and get it back in control.
The dicey situation in Michoacán has arisen at a sensitive time for the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto. With the country showing sluggish growth, the president highlighted what he calls “Mexico’s moment” via a series of high-profile policy overhauls in 2013, in education, the country’s energy and telecommunication industries and politics — moves aimed in part at attracting billions of dollars in foreign investment.
On Feb. 19, Mexico will host President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the city of Toluca, in Peña Nieto’s home state of Mexico. The focus will be the future of the 20-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. But the situation in Michoacán, analysts say, underscores why Mexico still feels like a nation being built on quicksand, with weak judicial institutions, a conviction rate of less than 5 percent, and growing frustration among residents, who are taking up arms to find their own brand of justice, posing a serious challenge to Peña Nieto.
Mexican soldiers and federal police on Monday captured one of the four top leaders of Mexico’s Knights Templar drug cartel in Michoacan state, which has seen fighting between the gang and vigilante groups that have sprung over the past year. An official at the federal Attorney General’s Office, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, revealed the arrest of Dionicio Loya Plancarte, alias “El Tio,” or The Uncle.
The 58-year-old Loya Plancarte had a 30-million peso ($2.25 million) reward on his head from the Mexican government for drug, organized crime and money-laundering charges. He was considered one of the country’s three dozen most-wanted drug lords in the late 2000s.
In violence-racked Michoacan, an impoverished agricultural state about 1-1/2 times the size of Switzerland, vigilantes are battling a cartel called the Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, for control of swathes of the failing state. After letting the conflict brew, the government this month vowed to assert control but its messages have been contradictory.
The vigilantes, or self-defense groups, say they won’t lay down arms until the government kills or captures the cartel’s leaders, who they say stole property and demand a 20 percent share of local farmers’ sales as protection. The risk in Michoacan is that history repeats itself, with one new violent group replacing the old. Experts say using local militias is a bad idea because they often end up behaving like those they were set up to fight, and some locals claim the new groups of vigilantes have been infiltrated by rival drug gangs.
Boots on the ground was the easy part. Last week, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto sent a massive surge of military and federal police to embattled Michoacan state. The federal forces currently patrolling its cities, highways and backroads have brought a tenuous peace to a region that had faced a potential showdown between the dominant Knights Templar drug cartel and armed vigilante militias that emerged to drive the cartel off.