Rise of Self-Defense Groups Highlights Mexico’s State-Level Security Challenges

Rise of Self-Defense Groups Highlights Mexico’s State-Level Security Challenges

The inhabitants of Michoacan, a state on Mexico’s Pacific coastline, must feel a grim sense of deja vu regarding recent developments surrounding organized crime-related violence in the region. Seven years ago, then-President Felipe Calderon launched the Joint Operation for Michoacan, through which the Mexican federal government essentially took over responsibility for security enforcement from regional and local authorities. The operation began shortly after La Familia, a criminal organization based in Michoacan, publicly announced itself as a new force to be reckoned with. The law enforcement response then marked the beginning of the Calderon administration’s so-called “war on drugs.”

Although La Familia later splintered, its main offshoot, the Knights Templar, has continued to use Michoacan state’s strategic location to move drugs north and terrorize local communities through extortion and kidnapping. Last May, President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration announced that the federal government would intervene in Michoacan once again, only to institute a specialized commission in charge of the state’s security a little over a week ago.

Notwithstanding these parallels, a new variable came into play in early 2013: the rise of “self-defense groups,” which have added a new layer of complexity to the security situation of both Michoacan and Mexico as a whole. These groups have waged small but consistent efforts to drive the Knights Templar from villages throughout the past year. On New Year’s Eve 2013 these efforts seemed to have gained critical momentum as caravans of pickup trucks stormed and took control of many of the Knights Templar’s major strongholds.

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