Homicide and extortion levels have risen significantly this year in Michoacan, southwest Mexico, indicating that vigilante groups have not proven successful at reducing violence, and may be contributing to the worsening security situation.
Homicides increased by almost 45 percent in Michoacan in the first six months of 2014 compared to the same period last year, according to statistics released by Mexico’s Secretary for National Public Security (SESNSP) (pdf). In total, 555 homicides were reported in the state between January and June 2014, up from 384 murders in that period in 2013.
The months of March and May this year marked the first time homicides have reached 100 in a month since the government began its records in 2006, reported Milenio.
According to the figures, extortion has also increased by over 40 percent in the state. Between January and June this year 225 extortion cases were reported, up from 157 cases in the same period in 2013. These figure mark the highest level in a six-month period since 2009, according to Milenio.
InSight Crime Analysis
The recent government figures indicate that although Michoacan’s self-defense groups may have weakened the Knights Templar cartel, they have not succeeded in improving the state’s security situation. In fact — despite a January agreement between vigilantes and government authorities to incorporate self-defense groups into an official rural defense force — the vigilantes may be contributing to a deteriorating security situation.
Although Michoacan’s security commissioner launched the rural defense forces in May, only around 3,000 of the estimated 20,000 vigilantes had applied to join the force by the registration deadline. Self-defense forces that either chose not to take part or were excluded from the process have continued to operate in the region, with one rogue group taking over a town near the port of Lazaro Cardenas in late June. The rise of the militias has led to a large quantity of unregulated arms in the region, including high-power weapons such as AK-47s, AR-15s, and sniper rifles.
There have also been indications that some vigilantes have become criminalized, raising the question of whether the groups might themselves be extorting locals.
The rise in homicides and extortion is likely attributable in part to a scramble for territory among criminal groups looking to fill the power vacuum left by the depleted Knights Templar. One of the groups attempting to take over what remains of the Knights’ criminal empire is the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), which the Mexican government has claimed worked with Michoacan’s vigilante groups in their fight against the Knights Templar.