Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A three-sided conflict

A drug cartel takes over a Mexican state. Local vigilantes, perhaps with the help of a rival drug cartel, appear to win some fights against the local drug lords. Then the Mexican army arrives to keep the peace. Who has power? Who has legitimacy? Who has authority?

Knights Templar 'leader' captured in Michoacan
Mexican security forces have arrested three members of the Knights Templar drug cartel in the violence-hit state of Michoacan, officials say…

Hundreds of troops have recently been deployed to restore order after groups of vigilantes clashed with the gang.

The vigilantes accuse the government of not doing enough to protect locals from extortion and violence.

Many members of the so-called self-defence groups are refusing to heed the government's call to disarm…

Large areas of the western state have been under the control of the Knights Templar cartel. However, earlier this month, vigilante groups began occupying much of the gang's key footholds. The Knights Templar, who claim to protect the local population from attacks from rival gangs, have accused the self-defence groups of siding with the New Generation drug cartel based in neighbouring Jalisco state…

The government of President Enrique Pena Nieto has repeatedly denied that it has lost its grip on Michoacan despite several troop surges in the state in the year since he came to office.

Michoacan: Mexico's failed state?
Michoacan, the Mexican state where troops were first deployed in 2007 to tackle the drug gangs, is in danger of spiralling out of control.

Vigilante groups armed with high-powered weapons of questionable origin have pushed out a powerful drug cartel, the Knights Templar, from some of their key footholds in a region called Tierra Caliente.

"This is a failed state," says Comandante Cinco, a self-defence leader in the village of Paracuaro.

He says the community militias emerged because people were tired of paying extortion money to the drug cartels while local police did nothing to protect them.

Worse still, many officers were in the pay of the cartel…

The entire village has turned out in the main square to hear the self-defence forces explain their plan for the future now that the cartel have been run out of town.

Some townsfolk are fearful of simply replacing one group of unknown armed men with another. Other people are holding up placards thanking the self-defence forces for taking on the Knights Templar…

Meanwhile the church now has entered the fray. The Bishop of Apatzingan, Miguel Patino, has also previously described the state as failed. Now he has published an open letter criticising the government's response to the crisis.

"The problem we have is that often we can't find any guarantee of security among our local authorities because they are compromised by the enemies of peace," the bishop told the BBC in the cathedral in Apatzingan.

"That's a serious problem because who can we turn to?"

For most citizens caught in the stand-off, the question of whether or not the state has failed is perhaps academic. Certainly, they see it as failing…

[A 2-minute video report from BBC reporter Will Grant accompanies this article.]

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