Mexican Authorities Accuse Vigilantes of Drug Cartel Ties

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Mexican authorities have accused a vigilante group in southwest Mexico of being a front for a drug cartel, in what could be a sign of criminal infiltration of the self-defense groups, or just a smear from the threatened security forces.

The claims followed the arrests of at least 30 members of a self-proclaimed “community police” force in an army operation in Buenavista Tomatlan municipality, northern Michoacan state.

The raid freed the local police director and five other officers who the group had been holding captive after abducting them a week before. The group had announced previously that the six police would be submitted to a “public trial,” reported Proceso.

In a press conference, members of the Secretary of National Defense (Sedena) said they believed that the suspects, some of whom are minors, were armed by the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco – Nueva Generacion). Other reports identified the group as full-blown members of the cartel or even as drug traffickers posing as members of self-defense groups.

At the time of their arrest, the group were carrying high caliber firearms — some used exclusively by the military — including AK-47s, assault rifles, and so-called “cop-killer” pistols — so named for their ability to pierce bulletproof vests.

A total of 47 weapons were confiscated during the operation, and Sedena officials said they would be used as evidence to demonstrate the group’s ties to drug traffickers.

InSight Crime Analysis

As calls have grown for the legalization of civilian self-defense groups in west Mexico, and some vigilante groups have actively sought legal recognition, concerns have grown that these groups could morph into paramilitary organizations, or develop ties to criminal gangs. If the authorities’ claims that the group in Michoacan were working for a cartel are true, then it would confirm these fears.

Reports that the group was so well-equipped and heavily armed lend credence to the authorities’ allegations. However, it also cannot be ruled out the claims are false and designed to undermine the vigilantes and provide justification for bringing the group down. The fact that the group were holding police captive and threatening to try them in public would certainly provide ample motivation for the security forces to move against them.

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