This week, Mexican authorities have declared that they will no longer tolerate the vigilante groups that were fighting a drug cartel in Western Michoacan. The Vigilantes is a self-defense group that was formed at the beginning of 2013 to fight against the Knights Templar cartel. It was formed by civilians tired of the systematic extortion, kidnappings and violence.
The vigilantes were initially well received by local residents. Vigilantes brought a solution to the ever-lasting problem of organized crime when the government’s capabilities were not enough to assure their security. The group’s success grew to reach thousands of armed men, who although breaking the law, were tolerated by the Mexican authorities. Police and soldiers alike carried out joint raids with this group of assault-rifle-wielding civilians and managed to weaken the cartel by recovering land and property take overs, cattle, and capturing and arresting some of its top leaders.
The story here is not that simple. Mexican authorities have stated that they will put a stop to the Vigilantes. “We are reaching a point at which we no longer need them”. The word –need- is an interesting choice.
By implicitly recognizing the Vigilantes, working with them, allowing them to systematically break the law with their objective, tolerating their use of assault rifles when civilians are not even permitted to carry weapons in Mexico, Mexican authorities gave them the green light to operate above the law. This brings back the ancient philosophical question of what was more important the means or the end? In this case, the ends justify the means. Was this the only option available to secure the residents’ well-being? Maybe it was. But it backfired soon enough.
Last Thursday, one of the top leaders of the Vigilantes group was charged in the murder of two members of another vigilante faction – Yes they have factions and rivalries now. Having a green light to operate above the law, the group soon started to engage in criminal activities. Organized group + illicit activities = organized-crime-like-activities. The math is simple, maybe their objective it is not profit, but they have turned and divided over the spoils of wars.
Local residents have accused the group of demanding money and fixed quotas in return for protection, or for giving back the properties that were previously stolen or occupied by Organized Crime. Extortion anyone? Also, they take guns, vehicles from people who they suspect may support cartels.
Mexican authorities found in the vigilantes a short term solution to the state of general violence caused by organized criminal groups. The state of Michoacan has been one of the most alarming cases where cartels effectively controlled entire towns. However, once the initial success passed, it appears the Mexican authorities have a new item to worry about in their list.