Conflict in Mexico’s Heroin Heartland as Self-Defense Groups Cry ‘Narco’

11/14/16 InSightCrime

download-7Two self-defense groups in Mexico‘s troubled state of Guerrero have accused each other of involvement in organized crime, illustrating the complexity of the criminal landscape in the country’s heroin epicenter.


The Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (Union de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Estado de Guerrero – UPOEG) and the United Front for the Security and Development of the State of Guerrero (Frente Unido por la Seguridad y Desarrollo del Estado de Guerrero – FUSDEG) have long been rivals in the southern state, but their relationship is in its “tensest moments yet” according to the newspaper Milenio.

The two groups are allegedly fighting over control of part of the federal highway 95, also known as the Heroin Highway, which connects the violent seaside resort town of Acapulco with the state capital Chilpancingo, and eventually, Mexico City. Both groups maintain checkpoints along the part of the highway that runs between Petaquillas and Xaltianguis, Milenio reports.

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Mexico vigilantes take over government building, hold 11 officers

Army detentions MichoacanThe Los Angeles Times, 01/07/2014

Vigilantes who took over the main government building of a small Mexican city in Michoacan state after a weekend shootout with suspected criminals were refusing to release 11 police officers held as prisoners, officials said Tuesday.

Michoacan, an important agricultural state in southwestern Mexico, has seen a number of armed “self-defense” groups spring up in recent months with the purported aim of protecting residents from the powerful drug cartel known as the Knights Templar. The groups at times have accused police and government officials of colluding with the drug cartel.

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

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

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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Mexican vigilantes seize town on highway from Mexico City to Acapulco

youth with handgunThe Washington Post, 3/27/13

Hundreds of armed vigilantes have taken control of a town on a major highway in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, arresting local police officers and searching homes after a vigilante leader was killed. Several opened fire on a car of Mexican tourists headed to the beach for Easter week.

Members of the area’s self-described “community police” say more than 1,500 members of the force were stopping traffic Wednesday at improvised checkpoints in the town of Tierra Colorado, which sits on the highway connecting Mexico City to Acapulco. They arrested 12 police and the former director of public security in the town after a leader of the state’s vigilante movement was slain on Monday.

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Can Mexico’s vigilante militias trade ski masks for police badges?

Policia MexicoThe Christian Science Monitor, 3/26/2013

Some townspeople in southern Mexico who have taken up arms in the name of self-defense may be given a chance to trade in their masks for official uniforms. Bucking the federal government’s statements decrying impromptu militias, the governor of Guerrero has proposed legitimizing the armed groups in the tradition of the state’s autonomous community police forces. It’s a controversial proposal that could create friction as authorities wrestle with the emergence of armed groups whose origins are not always clear. The move could influence how officials respond to similar movements in neighboring states.

Organized crime and drug trafficking have hit far-flung rural towns especially hard, where official security forces are often weak, ineffectual, or co-opted by criminals. Back in January, fed up with extortion and kidnappings, the residents of Ayutla de los Libres, in the southwestern state of Guerrero, pulled on ski masks, armed themselves with shotguns, and began patrolling their streets. The group’s detention of dozens of suspected criminals and its plan to hold public trials, as well as highway checkpoints to keep out strangers – including soldiers – put the federal government on alert.

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Mexican vigilantes set aside masks, checkpoints

youth with handgunThe Miami Herald, 3/14/2013

he leader of Mexico’s best-known group of vigilantes said Thursday that his followers will set aside their masks and highway checkpoints, but they won’t disappear. Rather, Bruno Placido said his group is seeking to form a national movement with other “self-defense” groups that have sprung up throughout Mexico to fight crime fueled by drug cartels.

Placido said the vigilantes he leads in southern Guerrero state are trying to leave behind the concept of masked, armed patrols that have sparked conflict in recent weeks, after some groups were found to have possible links to drug cartels or engaged in tense confrontations with the army or rival cartels. “We have left behind the stage of ‘self-defense’ and are opening a new page,” Placido said. “The farmworkers who came out and joined the ‘self-defense,’ they can return to their work, the ranchers to their cattle.”

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