Mexican Vigilantes Take Safety Into Their Own Hands

Source: David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

This month, international media is finally paying attention to Mexican people’s struggle to stop drug violence. In the state of Michoacán, the government and police have not been successful in keeping people safe from drug cartel violence and kidnappings. Various self-defense groups that emerged last year took matters in their own hands by occupying cities with the purpose of protecting people from the drug cartels. In Michoacán, the urgent need was to protect the people against the Knights Templar — a drug cartel which has come to extort and otherwise terrorize residents throughout the Tierra Caliente — an important agricultural region west of Mexico City. 

This week, the state of Michoacán was a battle ground with three principal actors:  The Knights Templar drug cartel (Los Caballeros Templarios), the federal police along with the Mexican army, and the armed self-defense militias, a group which arose in reaction to the presence of organized crime in Mexico’s Tierra Caliente. 

At the beginning of the month, photographer Hans-Máximo Musielik spent an entire day with one of the leaders of the self-defense militia, Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles. In Michoacán, the photographer documented how Mireles begins his day working as a doctor at 7 a.m., helping patients in his community, and in the afternoon goes and joins the struggle. 

According to Daniel Hernandez of Vice Mexico, Mireles was looking to broaden the group's control when it took over the municipality of Churumuco. Everything was going well until Saturday January 4th. The self-defense group took over the municipality of Parácuaro (the tenth region they had taken over to defend) and when taking over Chumurruco there was violence between drug cartels, mexican military, and militias. Currently, government forces are moving in, claiming it is to prevent further violence between vigilantes and members of the drug cartel. 

Early this month, a helicopter where Mireles was a passenger crashed. But the self-defense militia leader survived the accident and is in the hospital. 

When Televisa aired a video from Mireles, the head of a general counsel of autodefensas in the region, Mireles appeared to be expressing his support for an accord by which the state handed over public security duties to the federal government.  

Hipólito Mora, another Michoacán self-defense militia  leader, lamented the government’s disarming of the community militias and not the Knights Templar, the drug cartel whose operations occasioned the militias’ formations.  

“They’ve got to aim toward them for peace to come back here in Michoacán,” he said. In the latest clash with military soldiers, self-defense groups are expected to disarm and join the police, and effectively vigilantes are starting to disarm mostly against their will. 

Here's a clip of a short documentary created by Vice, Mexico following the vigilantes in a community assembly. 

 

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