MICHOACAN, Mexico— Mexico has been embroiled in violence for many years due to the country’s battle against drug trafficking. Drug traffickers have brutally retaliated against the state, exposing the common people to the unspeakable carnages of the illicit industry. With the latest arrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, Mexico’s most powerful cartel leader, the international public is reminded once again of the prolonged mayhem that engulfs the country.
From the most recent bout of violent turmoil, a movement of self-armed civilian groups who call themselves “Grupos de Autodefensa Comunitaria” have emerged. Their averred goal is to defend and liberate their communities from the abuses of drug traffickers. Their main target: a drug cartel called Los Caballeros Templarios, or the Knights Templar.
The autodefensa movement rose up against the Knights Templar in 2013 after having been subjected to constant abuses by the latter. The Knights of Templar is a cartel group from the southwestern state of Michoacán and shares a common origin with the cartel of the recently arrested “El Chapo,” as both are vestiges of a now defunct cartel group.
On October 14, 2012, in the Michoacán town of Urapicho, an unarmed man was murdered by a group of youths. His death, however, was neither the first nor the only instance that the community—largely indigenous—suffered. In a video recording conducted in the indigenous Purepecha language subtitled in Spanish, a masked individual also references four kidnapping victims. Six days after his body was discovered, the community decided that it was time to dismiss local politicians and take matters into their own hands to protect themselves.
These civilian vigilantes have been found in at least 9 states throughout the country. However, there have been criticisms that these groups—which are of a militaristic and bellicose character—are abusing their power. As an example, in the beginning of March 2013, the brother of the mayor of Buenavista Tomatlán was assassinated at the hands of one of the community defense groups. It is worth taking note that the many mayors in Michoacán have been denounced as having links with the Knights Templar cartel.
As of the end of February 2014, autodefensa groups have made markedly considerable territorial expansion. After entering the city of Apatzingán where Antonio Magaña Pantoja, a cousin of Enrique Plancarte who is the leader of the Knights Templar cartel, was residing during the first week of February. Soon after the capturing of Apatzingán, the groups moved onto Santa Clara del Cobre, Opopeo, Zirahuén and Pátzcuaro and are now expressing their intention to move into the state capital of Morelia—through their Facebook group “Valor por Michoacán” (Being Brave for Michoacán). However, their extrajudicial “meting of justice” has so far gone largely with impunity.
Although the activities of the autodefensa movement are seen to some as justifiable, the question is whether or not violence will vanquish violence or should the Christian maxim of “turning the other cheek” be practiced when the state is failing to provide security. The state has more or less normalized and legalized the activities of these armed groups, but is it running the risk of turning Michoacán, or worse the country itself, into a land of warlords? Further, as there are supports for “El Chapo,” as seen in the demonstrations for his acquisition in the state of Sinaloa, it could also be an indication of a possibility of clashes between pro and anti-cartel groups.
– Peewara Sapsuwan