Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

From All Corners: Opinions on the vigilante situation in Michoacan province, Mexico

The power of the drug cartel known as The Knights Templar in southern Mexican province of Michoacan has given rise to a unique balance of power in the area over the last year. As the locals became unsatisfied with the government’s handling of the Templars, known for their brutality, a number of vigilante groups arose to take matters into their own hands.

In what may have seemed like a surprising move at the time, the Mexican government welcomed the vigilantes, and collaborated with them as part of a “Rural Defense Corps” to put an end to the Templar’s hold over the region.

In recent weeks, three of the top four leaders of the Templars have been caught or killed by Mexican officials. Due to their recent victories over the cartel, the government is now demanding that the vigilantes give up their arms or face arrest. The vigilantes see things a little differently.

The vigilante groups, who have gained a respectable amount of power in Michoacan, feel that the job is not done. Although a huge amount of progress has been made, the leader of the Templars, a man known as Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, remains at large. Until he is brought to justice and the Templars are entirely dismantled, the vigilantes and the communities attached to them will not feel safe.

Tensions seem to be escalating between the government and the vigilantes, as the latter have set up barricades around their towns to prevent the security forces from coming to take their weapons. However, it appears that the vigilantes have a legitimate point to make. Mexican drug cartels are known for their brutality, and the Templars stand out even amongst other cartels in that regard. How can men who took up arms and literally fought this cartel turn their guns in to the government and still feel safe when the cartel’s leader is still at large? The Templars may be down at the moment, but they are most certainly not out of the game yet.

From the vigilantes’ point of view, the job is only half done. And if the government couldn’t complete the first half on their own, how will they be able to complete the second half? What appears to be happening is that the government now feels threatened. The vigilantes are in virtual control of many Michoacan towns. The Mexican government probably fears the vigilantes becoming too powerful in the area, and simply taking the place of the cartel. Attempting to save face, they are now demanding the vigilantes turn in their weapons.

But on what grounds? The government did not give the vigilantes their guns; what right do they have to take them away? Even if they do succeed in disarming the vigilantes, they would then have to assume the enormous burden of ensuring the safety of many Michoacan communities. If a single person is killed by the Templars, the responsibility would fall on the government.

The situation is certainly a unique one, and deep down the Mexican government is probably legitimately concerned for the security of the region. But if they truly want to make sure the people of Michoacan are safe, they must finish hunting down the real criminals before attempting to disband the people helping them.

By: Daniella Marrero

A group that rose as self-defense to the uncontrolled violence from drug cartels in Mexico, the Mexican vigilantes, after about a year of their existence, have since battled the biggest drug lords in Michoacan, flirted with the idea of joining forces with the government, and created an unofficial organization that arms any brave citizen to “protect” the people of the town. As enough time has passed for their efforts to be analyzed, the vigilantes have taken part in more than one questionable activity, instilling fear and doubt for the citizens of the western Mexican state.

In recent headlines, a leader of one vigilante group, Hipolito Mora, has been charged for murder of two members from another group of armed men, according to BBC. The groups are claimed to be rivals as vigilantes began dividing as conflicts and disagreements arose between them. A murder that could lead to violence between the “peace-seeking,” heavily armed men, their internal disputes and search of control of the land over the criminals can switch the game from “good-guy-kills-bad-guy” to “guy-with-good-intentions-killed-by-guy-with-better-intentions.”

The Mexican government, after cooperating with them for a while, has asked vigilantes to turn in their arms after numerous cartel leaders, most of the vigilantes most wanted, were killed. Although the vigilantes recognize that they have been successful in eliminating the criminals, they are protesting the government’s orders, arguing that their job is not completed until all cities have been fully defended against the violence.

But what violence is really going away? It is not the first time that a big leader within the Mexican cartel has been removed from society, and in no case has that led to the downfall of that cartel, but instead a quick readjustment of the hierarchy. It is also commonly heard that in shootouts between the army and cartels, a higher number of innocent civilians in the scene are injured or  shot than the persons in mind, an event that has been observed enough times to discredit using bullets to bring peace as an efficient solution.  On that note, a leader of vigilantes disclosed that an “untold number” of weapons they are using came from the black market, The New York Times reported. It would be foolish to believe that the organization that smuggled those weapons into Mexico (and more than likely sold them to the vigilantes) is not the same one that they are battling against.

At its most successful state, this plan could remove the organizations threatening the peace in Michoacan, but the bigger issue with more responsibility, the Mexican government, remains unable to fight against criminals. That is the problem that, without a solution, will never allow Mexico to see the peace that the vigilantes intend to seek. Perhaps the rage of frustration has left them dubious of working in cooperation with the government, but I cannot visualize a society that would feel safer by seeing self-appointed men with rifles, most of which you may not know their background of, standing in every corner.

“The growth of such forces ‘exposes the weaknesses of the rule of law,’” Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at Brookings Institution, said to the NYT, “‘and the real inability of state security institutions to develop robust responses.’”

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Matt Bacon
Matt Bacon, Editor

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From All Corners: Opinions on the vigilante situation in Michoacan province, Mexico