Did Knights Templar Keep ‘Truce’ During Pope’s Mexico Visit?

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The Knights Templar drug gang promised to halt violence during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Mexico, and called on other criminal organizations to do the same. Did the group keep its pledge?

In the week before the Pope’s visit, the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) hung several banners in towns across Guanajuato state, promising a temporary ceasefire. “[We] are holding off all violent action, we are not killers, welcome to the Pope,” the sign read, according to AFP.

In previous banners displayed in early February, the group also hinted that they would be avoiding violence during the weeks leading up to the Pope’s visit. The banners stated that rival groups should follow suit and avoid provoking the Knights Templar by moving into their territory.

The annoucement appeared to be in response to the archbishop of Leon city, Guanajuato, who had asked Mexico’s criminal gangs to abstain from criminal activity during the Pope’s tour of Mexico. But the weekend of the Pope’s visit was not without violence in Michoacan, where the Knights Templar are based.

On Friday March 23, the day of the Pope’s arrival to Mexico, two federal police officers were found dead on the highway leading out of Michoacan’s capital, Morelia (see map, below). They had been shot at point blank range with a high-caliber weapon, which is usually taken as evidence that a homicide is related to organized crime.

Michoacan reported at least two other homicides over the weekend. The first incident, which took place in a Morelia neighborhood, appeared to involve a bicycle robbery gone wrong. Elsewhere, police reported the discovery of an unidentified body, with signs of torture, in another rural municipality.

A federal police vehicle also reported an attack in Morelia early on the morning of March 24, after gunmen opened fire during a patrol.

The military reported dismantling at least two laboratories used for the production of synthetic drugs, including methamphetamine — a big money-maker for Knights Templar’s rivals and progenitors, the Familia Michoacana.

InSight Crime Analysis

Michoacan did not enjoy an entirely peaceful weekend during the Pope’s visit, but neither did the department see massacres or violent gunfights between criminal groups and the security forces.

It is also worth noting that any of several groups could have been behind the attacks reported during the Pope’s three-day visit, from street gangs in Morelia to the Familia Michoacana. If the Knights Templar wanted to deflect the blame for the violence seen in Michoacan during the Pope’s visit, it could probably point the finger at other groups.

The Knights Templar are known for their religious rhetoric, similar to that employed by the Familia Michoacana. Their alleged ceasefire formed part of this public relations campaign, but whether or not they actually followed through with it is beside the point. Simply announcing the intended ceasefire may have already achieved the desired effect: presenting the Knights Templar as the more community-minded of the criminal organizations present in Michoacan and therefore worthy of local support.

Michoacan registered 2,618 homicides in 2011, a 29 percent increase from 2010, according to government statistics. So far in 2012, the state has reportedly registered 48 killings related to organized crime.


View Tarímbaro, Michoacán in a larger map

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