The civilian battle against the Knights Templar Drug Cartel has spiraled into chaos after many groups disobeyed the government’s commands to put down their assault rifles and return to their day jobs. On Monday, January 14th, Mexican federal troops engaged in bloody combat with vigilante groups that left 12 dead after said groups refused to stand down.
Hardworking, average Joes have taken matters into their own hands down in Mexico. Militant vigilante groups have been storming into cities run by the Knights Templar drug cartel and fighting for control, frustrated with the Mexican Government’s ineffectiveness in maintaining order.
The vigilantes rose up in the Mexican state of Michoacan, angered by cartel members’ unrestrained abuse, extortion, killing of citizens, and raping of young girls. The members are mostly untrained civilians without weapons experience, and they are using illegal high-powered rifles.
Up until this week, the Mexican government tolerated the vigilantes, hoping that they could successfully oust the cartels. So why are they changing their minds now, when the vigilantes are successfully freeing more cities than ever from grips of the cartels? It is the large amount of fighting that has caused this change of heart.
Or maybe it is the wariness of a 13 month old Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, who sees this tension as a threat to his administration. President Peña Nieto says his government has stated clearly that “the Mexican government is the only one responsible for security.”
Nevertheless, the vigilantes are split on whether or not to stand down. Doctor Jose Manuel Mireles, a leader of several of the vigilante groups, made a televised speech asking his men to “heed the call from the interior minister” and stand down. But Estanislao Beltran, leader of the militia that seized Nueva Italia on Sunday, suffered two vigilante casualties for refusing to disarm in a tense standoff with the feds.
Marta, a 62 year old agricultural worker, said that before the vigilantes’ arrival, “you weren’t free here.”
Although many see the vigilantes as heroes, some in Mexico are as distrustful of the “defense groups” as the defense groups are of everybody else. Locals have alleged that some of the vigilante groups are working for rival drug gangs that have bones to pick with the Knights Templar cartel.
If the Mexican government and the vigilantes do not find a way to work together without killing each other, they will render each other ineffective. This is a crucial and unprecedented moment in Mexico’s drug war.