Consequences Of The Drug TradeMonday, January 6, 2014
Self-defence militias on the rise in Mexico
Vigilante group takes control of another town in Michoacán as analysts warn of dangers
MORELIA — Parácuaro, in Michoacán, became on Saturday the ninth town in the state to be seized by self-defence militias that have emerged during the last few years, formed by citizens seeking to defend themselves from drug-traffickers.
More than 100 vigilantes arrived on Saturday at the Michoacán town of Parácuaro in pickup trucks and SUVs and erected a checkpoint at the main entrance. They disarmed some police officers out of suspicion they were working with traffickers.
Michoacán authorities said a man was killed in a gun battle after the vigilantes seized the town. The man has not been identified as a member of either a drug cartel or a self-defence group.
“Parácuaro is up in arms. Backed by the united self-defence groups it forms its own community police,” the community police of Tepaltepec, another town seized by the vigilante groups, said on its Facebook page.
According to authorities in Michoacán, nine towns in the state have already been seized by the self-defence groups.
In a related incident, a small plane crashed in Michoacán yesterday, killing one man and injuring four other people, including an outspoken doctor who leads one of the state’s vigilante groups, authorities said yesterday.
The prosecutor’s office in Michoacán state said it is investigating what it described as an accident caused by a mechanical failure. The Mexican Attorney General’s office also launched a probe into the cause of the crash.
Among the four injured passengers is José Manuel Mireles, a key leader of an armed effort by residents to force drug gangs out of their communities. An unidentified man died at a hospital.
The crash quickly spread fear among other rightwing self-defence groups and residents in western Mexico because it came hours after the seize of Parácuaro.
Magdalena Guzmán, spokeswoman of the Michoacán attorney’s office, said the plane took off from Guadalajara on Saturday afternoon and was logged to land in the rural community of Tepalcatepec, where Mireles works as a doctor and heads a group of armed citizens standing up to the Knights Templar cartel.
Guzmán said it is unclear why the plane went down in the town of La Huacana, about 60 kilometres further south and east from the planned destination.
“They may have changed their path after taking off,” Guzmán said.
Mireles was flown with a head injury and a dislocated jaw to Michoacán’s capital of Morelia, where he was reported in stable condition. Two other men and a woman were also injured in the crash.
Mireles had lived 10 years with his family in Modesto, California, where he volunteered for the Red Cross before returning to his native Michoacán.
He has scored some victories in a 10-month effort to kick out the Knights Templar from the lime-growing valley that surrounds Tepalcatepec. Aligned with other self-defence groups, his men have taken control of some towns and expelled drug traffickers who kidnap and extort people to make money.
Vigilante groups on the rise
Analysts have warned that the rise and growth of vigilante groups in Mexico bears strong similarities with the situation in Colombia during the 1980s. As the power of drug gangs and their radical leftist guerrilla allies surged, frightened and angry Colombians formed rightwing militias in many rural areas with the intention of protecting themselves.
But some of those groups soon became little more than death squads, that used the same methods and were just as violent as drug-traffickers and guerrilla groups. They eventually became another threat to security in the country and another big problem for the government.
The situation in Mexico is still not as bad as it was in Colombia two decades ago but many NGOs and human rights organizations have recently warned the government about the dangers of allowing the formation of these delf-defence groups. In some cases, the government has even provided them with weapons and uniforms.
‘A failure for the government’
Two weeks ago, a Mexican human rights body warned the government that the growth of paramilitary groups is already undermining the rule of law and could lead to more violence.
Raúl Plascencia, president of the National Human Rights Commission, blamed the emergence of such groups on an official failure to provide security.
“This is a failure for the government because it’s not able to offer the most minimum protection,” Plascencia said.
A report by the commission released in mid-December said rights workers detected at least 7,000 members of armed self-defence groups in just the southern state of Guerrero where they conducted interviews.
Vigilante groups were noted in more than half of Guerrero's municipalities, according to the report, but Plascencia said he also had received reports of similar bands in 10 other Mexican states.
Residents told the commission workers that they feel vulnerable to kidnappings, extortions and killings.
So far, the self-defence groups that have drawn the most attention are those that have sprung up in Guerrero and Michoacán, where there are regular clashes with alleged drug traffickers.
Vigilantes have also arrested suspected criminals and resisted turning them over to the government, fearing they would be set free.
Herald with AP, Télam, online media