The Autodefensas of Michoacan, Mexico became an instant hit a few months ago when they started taking control of local communities in an area known as Tierra Caliente, then under control of the Knights Templar drug cartel. But the story is not as clear-cut as a good guy-bad guy story and if you factor infighting into the equation, there’s much left to be desired.
This vigilante movement first erupted in La Ruana, a 10,000 community close to Jalisco state, in February 2013. The civilian group of self defense was created by Hipolito Mora, a local grower and merchant.
Other communities followed their example and created their own vigilante groups. This is the case of Buena Vista, with the leadership of Luis Antonio Torres, aka Simón or El Americano.
Knights Templar is a drug cartel formed from the group “La Familia Michoacana,” a drug cartel created in the 1990s. When “La Familia” was in decline, a group of members split away and formed “Los Templarios.”
Vigilante groups, far from being a united front, started soon to put into evidence their mutual jealousy and mistrust.
In January, the Mexican army took over the area and called the vigilantes to cooperate. Some leaders accepted, others avoided a compromise, which means mainly that they will not give up their guns.
Facts on the Autodefensas vigilante groups
– They are well armed with weapons smuggled from USA.
– Most of these weapons were purchased with donations from local merchants, and apparently also with money from a rival drug cartel of the Templarios, the Nueva Generacion, of Jalisco.
– The Autodefensas expanded, attracting lots of young adultsmost of them unemployed, former migrants to USA and even Templarios switching sides who loved to show off their weapons and feel important.
– Some journalists witnessed public trials conducted by Mora, in which some people were expelled from his town and some of those expelled were welcomed by El Americano. In other words, these leaders act openly as bosses of entire communities.