Vigilantes in assault on Nueva Italia, Michoacan

The security crisis in Michoacan has reached a pivotal moment as Mexico's military attempts to disarm the self-defense militias or vigilantes that have taken over several municipalities -- a move that, if unsuccessful, could mark the collapse of state authority in the region.

On January 13, the Michoacan state government announced it was calling in federal security forces to tackle the security crisis that has seen self-defense militias seize control of a string of municipalities in their ongoing self-proclaimed war against drug cartel the Knights Templar.

The initial incursion of the army led to clashes with the vigilante groups, according to local media. The Defense Ministry confirmed two people had died in the town of Nueva Italia, which authorities say is now under control of federal forces, along with the municipality of Paracuaro. Vigilante leaders, meanwhile, claimed at least seven had died in the community of Antunez -- among them an 11-year-old girl -- and accused the military of firing indiscriminately on civilians.

The self-defense leaders' response to the assault has been confused. The man widely recognized as the principal leader of the Michoacan self-defense groups, Jose Manuel Mireles, stated in a video sent to television channel Televisa (see below) that militias would return to their communities and participate in talks with Michoacan Governor Fausto Vallejo.

However, this message was immediately contradicted in a communiqué issued under the name of the Council of the United Self-Defense Forces of Michoacan, which dismissed Mireles' comments and stated: "We are not going to lay down our arms; we are at war."

The first message was also contradicted by Mireles himself in another video published on YouTube (see below). He said the militias should not hand over their arms until the seven heads of the Knights Templar were arrested and extortion, executions, kidnappings and rapes were "100 percent eliminated."

InSight Crime Analysis

The potent mix of the Knights Templar drug cartel, corrupt and inefficient security forces and state authorities, and increasingly powerful self-defense militias has been building towards the current crisis over the last year. What happens next could prove crucial in defining the security strategy of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

With the refusal to disarm, the self-defense forces have challenged the state's authority in an unprecedented way. And it will be difficult to disarm these organizations, especially while they appear to be heading up a ferocious and sustained assault against the Knights Templar. The Knights will not hesitate to retaliate with extreme violence, but the Peña Nieto administration is now in an impossible bind.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Vigilantes

If the militias continue to refuse to back down, the only way to reassert control over the region will be with force. The vigilantes are not poorly equipped rabble -- they are now armed with high caliber weapons reserved for military use and have the capacity to put up fierce resistance. Such a battle would inevitably lead to more civilian casualties, damaging what remains of the state's credibility on various political levels.

However, to leave the militias in place would essentially be an abdication of state authority, and an admission that the government is incapable of exercising power in one of Mexico's most troubled regions. What's more, some of the vigilantes have been tied to rival drug trafficking organizations who are using the self defense groups as a pretext to take more territory for themselves.

Investigations

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

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

The power of Colombia's elites is founded upon one of the most unequal divisions of land in the world. As of the early 21st century, one percent of landowners own more than half the country's agricultural land.1  Under Spanish rule, Colombia's agriculture was organized on the hacienda...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid...

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Organized crime and the violence associated with it is the preeminent problem in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The region is currently home to six of the most violent countries in the world that are not at war. Four of those countries are in Central America...

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

In a new report based on extensive field research, InSight Crime and the Asociacion para una Sociedad mas Justa have traced how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence...

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Transnational organized crime likes opportunities and little resistance. Bolivia currently provides both and finds itself at the heart of a new criminal dynamic that threatens national and citizen security in this landlocked Andean nation.

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Faced with the government's failure to rein in the criminals, communities across crime-besieged Mexico have been trying for years to organize effective civic resistance. Michoacan's vigilantes express the most extreme response by society to date, but other efforts have been less belligerent. In battle-torn cities along the...

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

If Uruguay's proposal to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana is properly implemented and overcomes political and economic hurdles, it could be the most important drug regulation experiment in decades.