Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mexico’s Vigilante Catch-22

The efforts of the Mexican government to disarm the so-called self-defense groups in Michoacan have placed it in something of a bind. While the vigilantes’ presence draws embarrassing attention to officials’ inability to guarantee security, their popularity makes it difficult to assume control of the area without public backlash.

From the New York Times:
As convoys of federal police officers and soldiers crisscrossed the rolling farmland, the turmoil here in Michoacán State — where vigilantes have taken up arms to battle cartel gunmen on village streets — has confronted the image-conscious Mexican government with a thorny security challenge and a daunting Catch-22. 
Should it disarm the loosely organized gunmen who have risen up to fight the drug cartels, risking deadly clashes with some of the very citizens it has been accused of failing to protect in the first place? 
Or should it back down and let these nebulous outfits — with little or no police training, uncertain loyalties and possible ties to another criminal gang — continue to fight against the region’s narcotics rings, possibly leading to a bloody showdown?
For now the government appears to be leaning towards the second option, adopting a more conciliatory tone towards the vigilantes in the wake of Monday’s deaths. Yesterday Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong told reporters that clashing with them was not the government’s primary objective. "Our target is not them, but the criminals. They have to be convinced that we are going to do our job," Osorio said.

According to a survey released Monday by pollster Gabinete de Comunicacion Estrategica, roughly 58 percent of Michoacan residents are in favor of the vigilante groups operating as long as the government cannot guarantee security. Still, locals are not entirely convinced of the purity of their motives.  Some 47 percent of Michoacanos say they do not believe the vigilantes’ “only objective” is to reestablish public security.

And they’re not the only ones. As the AP reports, a number of a Mexican security analysts and international observers have argued that tolerating the militias sets a dangerous precedent in the country. Yesterday, the U.S. State Department released a statement describing the clash between vigilantes and criminal gangs as “incredibly worrisome,” adding that it is “unclear if any of those actors have the community’s best interests at heart.”

News Briefs
  • The L.A. Times reports on cooperation between one self-defense group and federal forces in the Michoacan town of Nueva Italia, just 20 miles from the Knights Templar cartel bastion of Apatzingan. Meanwhile, Reuters highlights growing tension in that city, where residents say the gang has committed a series of brazen attacks in recent days.
  • Colombia’s FARC rebels have ended their 30-day unilateral ceasefire, despite optimistic speculation that the guerrilla group would extend it until after elections. While the FARC say they stuck to their promise and refrained from any attacks during that period, the government and various NGOs say there were some isolated breaks from the truce. El Universal has a roundup of reported violations, which vary between 3 and 12 depending on the source.  
  • While the temporary suspension of Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro’s removal order by a local court has bought him some time, his legal defense team is looking for other potential avenues to keep him in office, especially since it remains unclear whether the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will seek precautionary measures from the state on his behalf. According to El Espectador, Petro’s lawyers believe there is another path forward for the mayor, involving a direct constitutional challenge of his removal order.
  • The Global Post takes a look at the impact that $2.8 billion in aid has made in Haiti, four years after a devastating earthquake rocked the country. According to various reports and audits cited by the Post, evidence that sustainable progress has been made is mixed at best.
  • The AP profiles a weeklong visit by University of Tampa’s baseball team to Havana, where it has been playing youth league teams in what the wire service describes as an example of “baseball diplomacy.”
  • In Peru, a new law has gone into effect which guarantees that police officers and soldiers who use their firearms to kill or wound civilians "in compliance with their duty" cannot be prosecuted. The law has generated controversy in the country, and La Republica reports that civil society organizations like the Legal Defense Institute (IDL) have criticized its potential to further impunity for police abuses, characterizing it as a “license to kill.”  Spain’s El Pais also provides a good overview of the dispute, noting that some legal experts say police and the military have been exempt from prosecution for duty-related fatal shootings since 2007.
  • After the ruling PSUV’s strong showing in local elections in December, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has emerged with a much stronger hold on his government. This was evidenced in the delivery of his first state of the union address since his election yesterday. In his three-hour speech, Maduro announced a shake-up of his economic team and insisted that he would not authorize a currency devaluation, which several economic experts say is necessary. Economists consulted by the Financial Times are critical of this, with most characterizing it as putting off the inevitable.
  • The Venezuelan opposition, meanwhile, appears to have fractured and weakened in the weeks since it lost what it had been promoting as a referendum on Maduro’s rule.  Over at Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights, Hugo Perez Hernaiz and David Smilde argue that the opposition’s cohesiveness will likely break down even further in ahead of legislative elections in 2015. According to them, “the lack of an impending electoral event means Henrique Capriles’ leadership will probably be challenged or simply lose importance.”
  • Guatemala’s El Periodico reports that the white powder thrown into the face of Vice President Roxana Baldetti after the president’s state of the union speech on Tuesday was in fact lime, not flour, which makes Baldetti’s brief hospitalization more understandable.  The two women accused of orchestrating the powder-flinging are in police custody, but this has not stopped the country’s major political parties from accusing each other of planning the incident, as La Prensa Libre reports.
  • El Salvador’s Universidad Centroamericana has released the latest poll ahead of the country’s February 2 presidential election, this one showing 46.8 support for the FMLN’s Salvador Sanchez Ceren compared to 32.8 percent for Norman Quijano of ARENA. This is close to the findings of a recent CIP Gallup survey giving Sanchez Ceren a 12-point lead, though both stand in stark contrast to a Mitofsky poll published on Monday, which showed 35.5 percent for Quijano and 31.8 percent for Sanchez Ceren.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "...with little or no police training, uncertain loyalties and possible ties to another criminal gang..."

    This sounds like just as good a description of the Mexican police forces as it does of the vigilantes.