04/25/14 (written by apiña) — The long suspected concern that Mexico’s self-defense groups (grupos de autodefensa) were potentially being infiltrated by criminals and cartel members has recently been validated. Authorities claim that through a number of operations and arrests, they have now detained over 110 criminals posing as vigilantes within the last 30 days in the state of Michoacán; the two most publicized of such incidences are described below. The head of Michoacán’s Commission for Security and Comprehensive Development (Comisión para la Seguridad y el Desarrollo Integral), Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, made the announcement on April 22 following dozens of such arrests in the municipality of Huetamo.
According to Michoacán’s Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado, PGJE), on March 24, 2014, federal and state police arrested 11 members of the Knights Templar Organization (Caballeros Templarios, KTO) posing as members of self-defense groups in the town of Ziracaretiro. The suspects were all transferred to the state capital of Morelia for holding. One month later, authorities arrested an additional 44 to 46 individuals also believed to be associated with organized criminal networks in Huetamo. Authorities seized 23 guns, a handful of grenades, and a grenade launcher during the April 21 operation. According to La Prensa, the arrests came after a morning shootout between police and the suspects near the Benito Juárez district of Huetamo that left four wounded. It remains unclear as to the extent of injuries caused, as well as the identity of those injured. According to Commissioner Castillo Cervantes, the suspected criminals were acting as members of the self-defense groups that have spread throughout Michoacán, while “…wearing white shirts with the words ‘Free Huetamo’ and ‘Self-Defense Group’” to look like members of the community forces patrolling the areas. Although officials have yet to announce to which gang the suspects belong, the spokesman for the self-defense groups, Estanislao Beltrán, believes the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generación, CJNG) is involved.
Since emerging in February 2013, the groups have expanded into more than 29 of Michoacán’s 113 municipalities, while challenging government authority and security provisions in place. (Read more in Justice in Mexico’s new report, “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2013.”) The latest developments illustrating the efforts by state and federal authorities come amidst news of an agreement made with the self-defense groups to disarm and join state security apparatuses by May 10, 2014.
Meanwhile, as authorities arrested the suspected criminals posing as vigilantes, they also collaborated with self-defense groups to enter the town of Arteago, where the remaining leader of the Knights Templar, Servando “La Tuta” Gómez, is thought to be located. “We have always stayed in the towns until we have cleaned them out of members of organized crime and when people can live in peace,” said Estanislao Beltrán, vowing, “We will do the same in Arteaga.”