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.”
- 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.
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