Mexican military troops in Michoacan

Struggling to contain rapidly growing self-defense militias that threaten armed clashes with powerful criminal gangs, Mexico's federal government has brokered the hiring of an army special forces commander as public security czar in the central state of Michoacan.

Thursday's appointment of Brigadier General Alberto Reyes appears to mock President Enrique Peña Nieto's intent to soften the military-led anti-crime campaign begun by his predecessor, Felipe Calderon. The governor of violent Guerrero, which neighbors Michoacan on Mexico's Pacific Coast and faces its own militia and gangster threats, this week named a navy admiral to head that state's security forces.

"We will seek to work in a coordinated way with the municipalities with the most problems at this moment," Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio told a television interviewer, adding that the appointed general would have control over local, state and federal forces in Michoacan. "I am convinced that in a short time control will be restored." 

Calderon said much the same thing when he first dispatched troops to Michoacan, his home state, shortly after taking office in December 2006. The deployment set off pitched multi-sided battles between gangs and security forces that rage in much of northern Mexico and along both coasts to this day.

Home to the powerful criminal band the Familia Michoacana and its antagonistic offshoot, the Knights Templar, Michoacan remains one of Mexico's most insecure corners. So-called communitarian police forces, supposedly comprised of volunteers but some armed with outlawed assault weapons, have sprung up in many communities in recent months.

Knights Templar leaders have accused the community militias of working on behalf of the rival Jalisco Cartel-New Generation, which is aligned with the Sinaloa Federation of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. The militias in turn have targeted municipal police and mayors, accusing them of working for the Knights Templar

Despite their involvement in drug trafficking, extortion, and kidnapping, both the Familia Michoacana and the Knights Templar have always defined themselves in Robin Hood terms, promising to protect state residents against outside gangs and other threats.

The security situation has worsened in the few weeks since Michoacan Governor Fausto Vallejo, a member of Peña's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who won office last year, took a leave of absence to deal with undisclosed health problems that required surgery.

Soldiers scrambled Thursday to close off access of outside militiamen to the town of Coalcoman, in Michoacan's tropical "hot lands" as some 300 volunteers reportedly gathered in its central plaza. Clashes between militiamen and security forces were reported, though there were no indications of casualties.

Insight Crime Analysis

Mexico's presidents have been increasingly militarizing the fight against organized crime since the mid-1990s, when President Ernesto Zedillo staffed key attorney general positions and much of the newly created uniformed federal police with soldiers.

While Michoacan and Guerrero are particularly troublesome at the moment, soldiers and marines have been dispatched to many corners of Mexico in the past six years as the violence persisted. Cities such as Tijuana, Juarez, Veracruz, and even sophisticated Monterrey have turned their police forces over to control by active duty or recently retired military officers.

Yet the continued heavy reliance on military officers and troops to take control of local, state, and federal police forces is telling in light of Peña Nieto's very public attempts to portray Mexico's bloody security crisis as on the mend.

To date, Peña Nieto's strategy-in-progress, which he recently said could only be judged after another year, has been to bring both the army and navy – with which U.S. law enforcement and security advisors worked directly – under tighter control of Osorio's Interior Ministry.

The ministry this month begins rolling out a national program of social services aimed at alleviating the poverty that helps feed the gangster ranks. And a 10,000 strong militarized police force, to be staffed by transferred soldiers and marines, is being formed this summer for deployment in some of Mexico's more perilous parts.

But such measures, and the creation of police forces able to take on the gangs, will take years at best to bear fruit. In the meantime, Peña Nieto will find the military his best and perhaps only option, much as did Calderon.

The US supported raids by navy and army special forces against priority gangster targets apparently have ceased. But troops are still patrolling, and clashing often enough with the gangs.

"We haven't changed things," General Salvador Cienfuegos, the defense minister, told reporters in Durango. "It's only that we are avoiding confrontations with the criminals where there are people who have nothing to do with the problem. That makes us less visible, but we are the same and are getting good results."

The defense ministry announced this week that soldiers had arrested nearly 3,500 suspected gangsters since Peña Nieto took office. The ministry didn't release numbers of gangsters killed by soldiers or the troops casualties.

 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC and the Drug Trade: Siamese Twins?

The FARC have always had a love-hate relationship with drugs. They love the money it brings, funds which have allowed them to survive and even threaten to topple the state at the end of the 1990s. They hate the corruption and stigma narcotics have also brought to...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros

On the morning of April 5, 1988, Juan Ramón Matta Ballesteros left his palatial Tegucigalpa estate for a jog. Matta Ballesteros was wanted for murder, drug trafficking and other crimes in several countries, but in Honduras he felt safe. He regularly hosted parties for high-level officials at...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Jorge 40'

Rodrigo Tovar Pupo never imagined it would come to this: dressed in an orange jumpsuit in a Washington DC courtroom and standing in front of a United States federal judge, the grandson of a wealthy Colombian cattle rancher and nephew to a governor was facing a possible...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Like any arm of the justice system, the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had its battles with elites who used their charm and their muscle to try to influence what and who the celebrated commission...

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Elites and Organized Crime: Preface

Organized crime is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Oak Park, a leafy suburb of Chicago with a population of about 60,000. In general, it was a very low crime city, which is perhaps why many mobsters made their homes there, among them...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: The Cachiros

As it tends to happen in Honduras, the news began as a well-heeled rumor: Javier Rivera Maradiaga, the oldest of the three Rivera Maradiaga brothers still alive and leader of the feared and powerful Honduran drug trafficking group known as the Cachiros, had handed himself in to...

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: 'Don Berna'

By the end of 1993, Pablo Escobar was cornered. The cocaine king -- known as "El Patrón" -- was running out of money and options. His top assassins were either dead or had turned themselves in. Almost all of the senior members of the Medellín Cartel were...

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

Elites and Organized Crime: Conceptual Framework - Organized Crime

This project defines organized crime as: a structured group of people that associate on a regular and prolonged basis to benefit from illicit activities and illegal markets. This group can be local, national or transnational in nature, and its existence is maintained using violence and threats; corruption...

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The 'Huistas'

In the northwest corner of Guatemala, a little known criminal organization known as the "Huistas" dominates the underworld, in large part due its ties with businessmen, law enforcement officials and politicians.

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Guatemala is Central America’s most populous country and its largest economy. But an intransigent elite, an ambitious military and a weak state has opened the way for organized crime to flourish, especially since the return of democracy.