Mexico’s federal security forces say they have taken control of security in 20 municipalities in troubled Michoacan, but there is little evidence to suggest the self-defense militias are disarming or prepared to stand down.
In seven of the municipalities where federal police and the military have moved in, the municipal police force has been disarmed and sent for “training” in the distant state of Tlaxcala, reported Animal Politico.
After attempts to disarm the militias led to violent clashes with security forces earlier in the week, residents staged protests in support of the vigilantes in the municipality of Nueva Italia, reported Proceso. According to militia leaders, security forces then returned the arms they had confiscated following the confrontations.
On January 14, self-defense force leaders met with Michoacan governor Fausto Vallejo in an attempt to diffuse the tensions. The following day, one of the members of the Council of Citizen Self-Defense Forces, Estanislao Beltran, staged a press conference in which he declared the militias would freeze attempts to “liberate” new municipalities and look for ways to cooperate with the federal forces. However, he added, they would not be disarming.
In an interview with El Universal, Beltran said they would be acting in a more “reserved” manner, and not patrolling the streets openly displaying their weapons.
Despite the presence of federal forces, there have been numerous arson attacks on businesses in Apatzingan, including the torching of a pharmacy just a block away from the town’s city hall. Many businesses have now closed down on the orders of the Knights Templar, reported Proceso.
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On January 16, the Attorney General’s Office announced the arrest of two alleged Knights Templar leaders. However, vigilantes dismissed the first capture as a “joke,” saying they had never heard of the man arrested.
InSight Crime Analysis
While the clashes between self-defense militias seems to have subsided for the moment and the prospect of an armed confrontation causing civilian causalities has been lowered, Michoacan is still no closer to a long term solution to its three-way security stand-off.
Reports indicate that the “disarmament” of the vigilante militias has been superficial at best, with the tacit agreement they can keep their arms as long as they are more discreet about it. The truce discussed by the militia leaders meanwhile, contains little to suggest it is any more than an attempt to reduce tensions and does not address the central issues at stake.
Further questions remain as to how the Knights Templar will respond. Although it is unconfirmed that the arson attack on the Apatzingan pharmacy was carried out by the Knights, this seems highly likely, and is a reminder of their capacity to use terror tactics and extreme violence. The closure of shops in Apatzingan also highlights the levels of social control they maintain, even amidst the rise of the self-defense militias and the invasion of the federal security forces.
While, for the moment, the Knights response has been relatively subdued, it is probable they will soon choose a moment to retaliate.