Despite recent criticism of militia groups by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, the federal government has signed an accord granting institutional recognition to the so-called “self-defense” groups in Michoacan state.
Federal and state officials signed an agreement with several vigilante leaders in Michoacan yesterday which will allow them to be recognized as part of the Rural Defense Corps, a little-known volunteer force under military jurisdiction. According to the text of the agreement, members of vigilante groups may also join municipal police as long as the legal requirements are met and prospective members have the support of local officials. In exchange, the militias will have to turn over lists of their members to the Secretariat of National Defense (SEDENA) and register their weapons.
As El Universal reports, the government is emphasizing that the accord states these groups will be temporary. But neither the length of operation nor the terms of their service are specified in the text.
The move comes in the wake of the Peña Nieto administration’s repeated calls for the groups to disarm themselves and allow security forces to take up responsibility for law enforcement in the state’s volatile Tierra Caliente region. Just last week in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the president said that if the vigilantes were genuinely interested in improving security, they should join the police. “The Mexican government cannot be permissive nor tolerate the presence of [these] groups, even if they may be genuine about wanting to defend themselves,” Peña Nieto said.
The unexpected recognition of the militias demonstrates that the government is still grappling with an embarrassing Catch-22: while the vigilantes showcase officials’ inability to provide security, their popularity makes it difficult to disarm them without public backlash. The announcement coincides with the arrest of one of the four top Knights Templar Cartel leaders, Dionisio Loya Plancarte. As the AP points out, the timing of this may help the government save some face, distracting from its concession to the self-defense groups.
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- The NYT also features an interesting profile of Argentine Economy Minister Axel Kicillof, a rising star in Argentine politics. While President Cristina Fernandez has been avoiding the public eye in recent month, Kicillof has been steadily raising his profile since he was appointed in November.
- The Washington Post editorial board has a column in today’s paper on the European Union’s consideration of normalizing relations with Cuba. The editorial argues that an upcoming February 10 meeting of EU representatives should be used to solidify a position showing the Cuban government that any investment in the country must be linked to progress on democracy and human rights.