By Peter Bjel.
On a Sunday morning in January, the community of Nueva Italia in central Mexico learned that over one hundred civilian vigilantes had entered their town and occupied it. There was some gunfire in the process with alleged criminal gang members, but nothing further. Press photographs showed men in cargo pants and T-shirts armed with automatic weapons frisking disarmed local police officers. There was no sign of federal troops during the occupation, and similar armed vigilantes were reportedly already present elsewhere in Mexico, such as in the state of Guerrero, and spreading quickly. Much of the state of Michoacan, where Nueva Italia is located, is laden with strongholds belonging to a drug cartel known as the ‘Knights Templar’, which are actively fighting with another entity called the ‘New Generation’ cartel that has its strongholds in neighboring Jalisco state.
A couple of weeks later, after clashes with government forces sent in to disarm them, it was announced that these same vigilante forces would be officially incorporated into defense units called ‘Rural Defence Corps’. Mexico’s Interior Minister, Angel Osorio Chong, declared that the units would be temporary and “under the control of the authorities to cooperate with the troops”, but the BBC has reported that vigilante leaders declared they would “dedicate ourselves to regularising our status, having a legal status”.
Vigilantes first began appearing in Mexico some time in 2012. However, these new episodes demonstrate that Mexico’s brutal, long-standing internal conflict with drug cartels vying for the control of narcotics distribution and supply routes may have entered a new phase. These vigilantes are made up of citizens fed up with the presence of drug cartels that demand extortion from local businesspeople and farmers. They are also replacing the roles that, in theory, should fall to the various police and security forces in Mexico who have been inept at the responsibility.
It is too early to tell whether such vigilantism will make a difference or simply become another violent layer in an already complex situation that has been deteriorating since 2006. What is certain is that Mexico’s …
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