The American mainstream media has ignored the ongoing crisis in Mexico, as autodefensa groups struggle to stave off government disarmament. [borderlandbeat.com update after the jump.] president Pena Nieto’s sent troops into the Tierra Caliente to “convince” locals to surrender their weapons – despite the fact that he has not, as promised, rid the area of narco-terrorists. On Monday, Reforma newspaper reported that self-defense groups in Tierra Caliente have blocked 27 highways to prevent military convoys from entering their territory. The government response [via an unnamed official]: “They have to turn in (their weapons). Period. … There is no other option.” Frías manos muertas . . .
MEXICO, D. F., (Apro).- After a year of risking their lives facing and expelling Los Caballeros Templarios out of 14 Tierra Caliente municipalities, Costa and the Meseta Purepecha (Purepecha Mesa), the self defense groups in Michoacan are now being threatened by Enrique Pena Nieto’s government, which is trying to force them to lay down the weapons with which they did the work that PRD, PAN and PRI Federal and state administrations failed to get done in 12 years.
The announcement enraged the autodefensas, who, through the words of Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles, refuse to disarm themselves. Article 10 of the Constitution, they argue, gives every Mexican the right to possess a weapon for self defense. The spokesman for the Tepalcatepec autodefensas asked for support from the towns to prevent (the government) from taking their weapons.
On Thursday, April 3, the Commissioner for security and economic development for Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, announced in Morelia that the disarmament of the autodefensas will begin within the next few weeks, and he warned that, at the end of this process, whoever is found in possession of firearms will be arrested.
Hours later, on Thursday night on (April) 3, confrontations were reported between criminals on one side and autodefensas and Federal police who had supposedly cornered Servando Gomez Martinez, aka “La Tuta”, the leader of Los Caballeros Templarios.
The threats of disarming them angered the autodefensas. Upon learning of statements made by the commissioner, who is touring the municipality of Coahuayana, Mireles rejected the disarmament and asked the people for unity.
He reminded them that there have already been violent reactions to the threats of disarmament, like the one that took place in February in the Antunez area, where the population prevented soldiers from disarming them and there was a confrontation in which four persons died, two of them autodefensas.
He warned that he is not in favor of placing the safety of his city, Tepalcatepec, in the hands of the “single command” police or the national gendarmerie, because they do not know the geography, the people nor the criminals.
Mireles’ words clashed with the statements by the Federal commissioner. According to Salvador Maldonado Aranda, researcher with the College of Michoacan, these differences between the autodefensas and the government could bring about a new security crisis in the state.
A scholar of the Tierra Caliente region for more than a decade, Maldonado points out in an interview that the agreement signed at the start of the year by Castillo and the leaders of the autodefensas was meant to provide some certainty about the relationship between the parties. Also, disarmament was foreseen once demands for the arrest of the Templario leaders were satisfied.
He comments that, at least during these tense moments, there is in practice a distancing between the commissioner’s team and the autodefensas, who have divided into at least two goups: those linked to Mireles and those who support Castillo.
“I think this is the most tense situation, because it is not too clear whether the parties will come together or whether the the relationship will break up,” Maldonado indicates. He warns that you cannot disarm the autodefensas with the stroke of a pen, like the EPN government is trying to do, because their importance in combating crime and governing Michoacan has not been (properly) appreciated.
“Without this negotiation, I believe we’ll find ourselves in a serious dilemma: how are the relationships, the agreements going to be developed, what kinds of actors will form alliances to continue to improve a problem of violence and provide more assurance in governance. That’s the problem”.
RISKS OF MUTATION
Contrary to Castillo’s opinion that there is no longer any reason for the autodefensas to exist, (Maldonado) says that they can be an important intermediary, so long as new agreements are put in place to review the matter of infiltration and the work done to clean up areas previously controlled by (organized) crime.
He explains that the Federal Government should implement a long term strategy to provide the people with some certainty, and not expect that the autodefensas will come in, clean up the zone, and, a month later, the problem is again in place.
Worse still, if the Federal Government does not act carefully and wants to make the autodefensas disappear, there could be a phenomenon like in Peru or Colombia, where similar groups ended up being a problem for security and governability.
“That is a problem that was also experienced by other groups in Latin America, like the Civil Defense Committees in Peru, and, in some ways, the Self Defense Groups or paramilitary groups in Colombia. They had to reach a point where they had to negotiate to determine what they would do with them.”
However, he explains the the Michoacan autodefensas are different from the ones in Peru or Colombia, which were created by military (personnel) and subsidized by the government for counterinsurgency purposes.
If the differences with the Government persist, he adds, and they are made to disappear, there is a risk that in the intermediate term the autodefensas will take on another face and that other problems will grow, because then, the danger would come not only from criminal organizations, but also from the groups created to fight them and which are now considered to be illegal.
He argues that these groups are not going to give up their weapons even if they go underground; in a political situation hostile to them, they can form alliances with other kinds of groups.
The problem, he concludes, is that there have been no effective measures developed to provide predictability in the manner in which public security will be generated in Michoacan, except for deflating a political movement and eliminating organized crime.
He proposes a plan for citizen security, more so than public (security), whose strategic focus is on society and its long-term welfare.