MEXICO.- It has been debated before in several media whether Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state or is on the road to joint the economic giants of the world. Right now, at least one region of Mexico looks like the former.
Faced with a a government incapable, or unwilling, of confronting drug cartels and their violence in several communities, regions and municipalities throughout the country have begun to independently mobilize by forming "community police" forces, called by some as "vigilantes" or really just armed militant.
Some of these "lawless" areas are founding Chiapas (home to the EZLN uprising in the 1990s), Puebla, Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Jalisco, Mexico State and Michoacan. This last one is where most of the last couple of day's headlines have come from.
According to the Facebook page "Valor por Michoacán" (Courage for Michoacán), a website dedicated to support civilian activism and defense against drug cartels, the weapons used by these vigilantes or "self-defense groups" as they call themselves, have been mostly acquired by using the money small business owners and farmers are no longer paying to the Knights Templar cartel, extortion money they were forced to pay in order to avoid violent reprisals. Fed up with their submission, they decided to take up arms and fights against their oppression.
Armed civilians organized so called "self-defense" groups as protection, they say, against the Templars, one of the most feared criminal syndicates in MIchoacan and in Mexico since 2011, remnants of the La Familia Cartel.
But, on Monday nights, reports began to spread that Mexican military forces began to disarm vigilantes who, taking advantage of the increasing terror and violence as a means of control, have said they are trying to "reestablish order" after a chaotic week.
Estanislao Beltrán, spokesperson for these groups, responded to the army's intervention by assuring them there is no turning back, since they believe they will fall prey to the cartels's brutality once or if they surrender their weapons. He also reaffirmed the need urgent need to stop the Knights Templars, but they are opened to the possibility of reaching an agreement with state and federal authorities.
"If they go against the Knights Templars, they don't need to ask us to over our weapons; we would gladly go said Hipólito Mora, one of the vigilante leaders and seconding Beltrán. "The main goal, from the beginning of this fight, is to clean out crime in all of Michoacan's 113 municipalities. Organized crime has the capability to go after us, especial against us leaders; they will immediately try to kill us, our families, they will butcher us. Only when all three main heads of the cartel are stop, then can be thing about turning back. [...] we've never been against the government, but it failed to protect us."
But authorities came in with no plans to talk. Soldiers fired upon the self-defense group members in Atunez, Paracuaro, during Monday night and Tuesday morning. The encounter left 11 injured and four dead, reportedly an 11 year-old among them.
The New York Times reports that since then, military officials have left the town and armed vigilantes alone, with the condition they leave their weapons at home or out of sight. But the damage has already been done. That link, by the way, has an excellent analysis of why the federal government has no good options in face of this civilian uprising against drug cartels.
"The army came in arbitrarily, disarmed our comrades, returned, but the people are on alert... instead of giving us back our weapons, they shot at us, killing four people, an 11 year-old girl among them, civilians... the army shot our people, civilians that went to ask for their weapons back, the only defense we have left, we were negotiating all throughout the night and they just decided to kill us", recounted Estanislao Beltrán for MVS News.
Through their Facebook page, Courage for Michoacan , you can follow the conflict from their point of view, in case any of you are skeptical of official reports from authorities or traditional media. Several users have said the page is blocked from being shared, although that wasn't our experience.