Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Changing a political culture

Changing a political culture is difficult. It's a slow process even when the desire for change is powerful. In Mexico, one influence comes from the north, but perhaps not in the most obvious way.

Mexico's vigilante movement has a strong U.S. connection
Sporting a semiautomatic assault rifle and a "213" area code tattoo, Cuauhtemoc Espejo boarded the passenger bus and checked riders' IDs.

Espejo, who returned to Mexico's Tierra Caliente from California's Central Valley a few years ago, is a member of one of the vigilante bands that in recent months took over large parts of Michoacan state dominated for nearly a decade by drug and extortion cartels.

"There is a lot of fear, uncertainty now," Espejo said as he made sure nobody from the notorious Knights Templar gang was on the bus.

Many of the vigilantes, like Espejo, are returnees from California, where they worked in farm fields and factories before being deported or coming back voluntarily to protect their long-suffering families here.

Some say a key lesson they learned in the U.S. was that rampant extortion and the kind of brutality that the Knights Templar were spawning should not be permitted — and can be stopped…

The U.S. connection has helped inspire fundraising events from Southern California to Chicago. But the strength — and actions — of some of the vigilante groups has worried the Mexican government enough that President Enrique Peña Nieto recently ordered them disbanded and re-formed into a rural police force.

Individual members, some of whom learned to handle weapons as teens in California street gangs, have been required by Mexican authorities to register their firearms in order to serve on the force…

At this point, many questions remain about how the new system will work. And some who have moved back here have become disillusioned by the level of infighting among vigilante leaders, and by arrangements made with the government and, in some cases, the cartels…

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