Knights Templar Leader Makes Rare Video Appearance

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The leader of Mexico’s Knights Templar gang, alias ‘La Tuta,’ has appeared in a rare video espousing his group’s peaceful credentials and calling for the downfall of Zetas leader ‘Z-40,’ a move that may be an attempt to detract attention from the recent security drive against him.

The video (see below), published on the website Blog del Narco on August 22, begins with a close-up of the quote attributed the Che Guevara: “What does the life of one man matter, when the future of humanity is in danger.” The video then pans out to reveal a backdrop consisting of the Mexican flag, a statue of a knight, a poster of Che Guevara and a photo of the revolutionary leader with former Cuban president Fidel Castro.

With the scene set, the leader of the Knights Templar gang, Servando Gomez Martinez, alias “La Tuta,” appears on screen, taking a seat at his desk to begin an 11 minute address to the Mexican people, President Felipe Calderon, and the other Mexican cartels.

La Tuta, describing his group as a “necessary evil,” insists that the Knights Templar “are not a cartel, nor any kind of organized criminal group. We are a brotherhood, founded by a set of statutes and codes,” later adding, “Our only function is to help the people, preserve our state … and keep our country free of people causing terror … It sounds a little controversial, but this is what we want: to live in peace.”

The leader then calls on Mexico’s other criminal groups to form a “common front” against, and kill, the Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño, alias “Z-40,” whom he describes as being the main culprit in perpetuating Mexico’s violence. La Tuta also broadens this request to the government, asking that President Calderon take action. This call follows a banner, or “narcomanta,” hung in recent days that declared the Knights Templar’s intentions to persecute Z-40.

The video ends with La Tuta offering his group’s respect and thanks to the country’s armed forces before he rises and leaves the room.

See here for Borderland Beat’s English translation of the transcript.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Knights Templar, who announced their arrival in March 2011, are one of the criminal groups in Mexico most dedicated to promoting their propaganda, a tactic learned from their progenitors, the Familia Michoacana. Despite their involvement in extortion, murder and drug trafficking, they are intent on conveying themselves as protectors of the people with a set of strict ethical moral and religious codes. A news report by the Associated Press published excerpts from the gang’s code of conduct in July last year.

The inclusion of Che Guevara paraphernalia is particularly odd, however. Mexico’s criminal organizations rarely, if ever, tie their cause to something with such overt political significance. The fact that La Tuta made no reference to the Argentine revolutionary and Cuban revolution hero — he explicitly stated his group has no political commitments — means that it was likely placed in an attempt to garner support through the exploit of a popular historical figure, rather than representing the Knights Templar’s turn to the political left.

La Tuta’s last public address came in August 2009, while he was still part of the Familia, when he spoke via phone with Mileno Television. During the interview, he similarly attacked the Zetas for terrorizing the population and praised both Calderon and the armed forces. His decision to show himself now and to stress his group’s respect for the government and desire to protect Mexico is likely a public relations move related to the recent security drive by the armed forces into Knights Templar territory. Some 15,000 federal troops were deployed to seven states in mid-August, with special attention given to Michoacan, the group’s stronghold, and the neighboring state of Guanuajuato where the Knights appear to be expanding their presence. A reward of over $150,000 has been offered for information on La Tuta’s whereabouts. The federal police stated they will not reduce their presence in the region until the Knights’ leader is caught.

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