Mexico: No One Expects The Rural Vigilantes


April 13, 2013: The Mexican government launched the Cartel War in December 2006 because it had to. The drug cartels were successfully carving out criminal operational areas in which they served as the hidden government. No, the cartels did not want to fix the potholes, deliver the mail, or run day-to-day administration. However, they did demand the implicit (and sometimes explicit) cooperation of key public servants, not only the police and judiciary but public servants administering local, state, and federal contracts and taxing authorities. For example, the Zetas have muscled in to the coal business in Coahuila state using classic mob intimidation tactics, and then sold the coal to government-controlled electrical generation facilities. Public servants are supposed to owe their allegiance to the people they serve, not mobsters. In 2006, given their access to finances and modern firearms, the cartels were also positioned to challenge the government’s monopoly on the use of force. And they have done so. All of the big cartels (but especially the Sinaloa, Gulf, and Zetas cartels) have employed gunmen in military-type operations. Though the drug gangs are primarily interested in operating their criminal enterprises with little or no police interference, the kind of weaponry and combat organizations the gangs have acquired mimics that of a political insurgency. The term insurgency has traditionally suggested a political goal, such as replacing the current government, obtaining tribal autonomy or regional independence, etc. The drug lords don’t really want that. This is why security professionals have toyed with hybrid terms like criminal-insurgency or “high intensity criminal violence.” The drug gangs, however, are certainly not running an apolitical insurgency. The Cartel War, like any classic insurgency, is ultimately about power. The drug lords, however, don’t want to be president. They do want to exercise power from the shadows and behind the curtain. (Austin Bay)

April 12, 2013: EUROPOL (European Union police coordination office) reported that Los Zetas cartel is increasingly active in Europe. The Zetas seem to be doing in Europe what they do in Mexico: in Europe they deal drugs, engage in human trafficking, and smuggle weapons.

April 11, 2013: A Federales helicopter was fired on by someone in a convoy travelling through Michoacan state. The federal police returned fire and killed five gunmen. In another incident in Michoacan state (town of Apatzingan), gunmen opened fire on a public political parade. The gunmen killed eight people. Federal police responded and killed one gunman. After the firefight the police seized a .50 caliber (12.7mm) rifle, an AK-47 assault rifle, and several pistols.

April 9, 2013: Economists are estimating that in 2013, bilateral trade between Mexico-U.S. will be well over $500 billion. The government has not made an official estimate but it is attributing a rise in manufacturing jobs to increasing international shipping costs (both air and sea shipping). Jobs that once went to Asia are returning to North America and Mexico is benefiting. 

April 8, 2013: U.S. customs and border agents arrested a Mexican national in Nogales, Arizona. The car the man was driving had a concealed compartment with 14 bundles. The agents found $175,000 in cash in the bundles.

April 5, 2013: Over a thousand police officers in Acapulco (Guerrero state) broke up a blockade by at least 3,000 public school teachers (one report claimed 10,000 demonstrators). At least five policemen and five demonstrators were injured in the incident. Several of the teachers were carrying long sticks (yes, the reports include pictures and they look like long baseball bats). The teachers had closed down the main highway between Acapulco and Mexico City for several hours. The teachers had begun a series of demonstration on April 4. The demonstrators then blockaded the highway. Traffic was held up for several hours before the police dispersed the crowd. Large rallies were also held in other towns in Guerrero and Oaxaca states on April 3. In Chilpancingo de los Bravo (capital of Guerrero state) a group of teachers carrying the long sticks took control of four radio stations. They also illegally entered state offices. The demonstrators say they are protesting against several new educational reform policies. Most of the demonstrators belong to a group called the National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE). The group is essentially the armed wing of the national teachers union, the National Union of Education Workers (SNTE). The national union is currently receiving scrutiny from federal prosecutors after the former union head, Elba Esther Gordillo Morales, was indicted on embezzlement and theft charges. Gordillo allegedly embezzled $160 million in union and education funds. The government is now implementing new controls over the union. In late February the government passed a law that gives the federal government control over education. Who had controlled education policy? The teachers union did so, with minimal official oversight. Based on the embezzlement scandal, there was also minimal financial oversight. Until the new law was passed, the SNTE determined who was hired and fired. The new law says hiring will be based on qualifications and merit. The teachers union has been one of the most powerful (and allegedly most corrupt) unions in Mexico. It has around 1.5 million members.

April 3, 2013: Mexico and France announced that their militaries will participate in an exchange training program. A detachment of Mexican marines will train for three weeks at the French Jungle Training Center in French Guiana. A detachment of the French Foreign Legion’s 3rd Infantry Regiment will train for three weeks at the Mexican Marine Corps Special Training Center in San Luis Carpizo (Campeche state). On April 30, the Legionnaires will participate in ceremonies in Mexico marking the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Camaron (April 30, 1863), which pitted the Foreign Legion against Mexican revolutionary forces.

March 28, 2013: The government said that it hopes that its North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) partners, the U.S. and Canada, can reach free trade agreements with the European Union. Mexico has a trade liberalization agreement with the EU. The government indicated that it would support a NAFTA-EU free trade deal instead of Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. negotiating separate bilateral trading arrangements with the European Union.

March 27, 2013: Several hundred members of a local self-defense group entered the town of Tierra Colorada (Guerrero state) and arrested the municipal police commander. The members of the self-defense group accused the police commander of working with narcotics gangs. The armed group left the town after municipal authorities (probably the mayor) suspended the police chief and agreed to investigate the charges against him.

March 23, 2013: Police found seven dead bodies propped up in plastic chairs and placed at a major crossroad in the town of Uruapan (Michoacan state). The killers had used ice picks to attach messages to two of the corpses. The messages indicated that the dead were petty criminals. Authorities suspected the murder victims were members of a rival gang.

March 22, 2013: Gunmen entered a bar in the town of Ciudad Altamirano (Guerrero state) and murdered seven people (three of them federal police officers).

March 17, 2013: Local self-defense groups continue to appear in villages and small towns throughout the country. The members prefer to call their organizations self-defense groups or community police forces. The government, however, frequently uses the term vigilantes to describe the self-defense groups and says it would prefer that the police or military handle armed security. That noted, a few officials will acknowledge that in some of the more remote areas it is difficult to provide police and military protection. The government also occasionally claims that some of the groups in the remote regions are cooperating in with drug traffickers. On March 14th soldiers arrested 17 members who claimed they belonged to a self-defense group in the Michoacan town of Buenavista Tomatlan. The army said no, that the self-defense group was phony and the people under arrest actually worked for the Sinaloa cartel. No doubt some of the self-defense forces do work for cartels. Locals went to work for cartels in Peru and Colombia and were essentially paid to watch the coca fields and keep the police away. However, some of the more detailed reports from Michoacan and Guerrero states (western Mexico) indicate that several of the self-defense groups are legitimate and they are manned by locals who are frightened and desperate. The weapons are one indicator. The most commonly reported weapon carried by self-defense force members is the machete. For a farmer the machete is a multi-purpose tool. It can be used as a weapon but it is not an AK-47. The most commonly reported firearm is the shotgun. That makes sense-- a shotgun is a food weapon (birds) and a coyote deterrent device, in other words, the perfect firearm for a rural farmer. It is not an AK-47. A few of the reports mention bolt action rifles and revolvers. Mexico has strict gun control laws but bolt action rifles and revolvers are not AK-47s. Agreed, the reports are anecdotal, but many of the journalists have stayed in the villages for several days and gotten to know the locals. The weapons and first-hand reports indicate that many of the local self-defense groups are just that – local people protecting themselves. (Austin Bay)




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