‘El Chapo’ Guzmán arrested in Mexico

02/22/14 – Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Loera, one of the most wanted criminals in the world and leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, the most powerful criminal organization in Mexico, was arrested on Saturday, February 22. ‘El Chapo’ was taken into custody in the tourist city of Mazatlán, in the State of Sinaloa in the North Pacific coast of Mexico. The arrest was carried out by elements of the Mexican Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) with the support of the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR), in a coordinated operation by several Mexican law enforcement agencies in which U.S. authorities also participated. Not a single shot was fired during the operation.

In a public address at the Navy Hangar in Mexico City’s Airport, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam confirmed the detention and the identity of Guzmán Loera, and recognized the coordination amongst agencies from Mexico and the United States. After a short speech by Murillo Karam, reporters were able to briefly photograph and film the detained while he was escorted by members of the special forces of the Navy to a Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) helicopter. The helicopter then conducted ‘El Chapo’ to a high-security prison in Almoloya de Juárez, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex), followed by two helicopters of the Mexican military.

El "Chapo" transported by the Mexican Navy. Photo: Reuters.

El “Chapo” transported by the Mexican Navy. Photo: Reuters.

Over the past several months, U.S. and Mexican authorities have dealt a series of blows to the Sinaloa Federation, headed by legendary figures ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán and Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada García, particularly targeting groups closer to the latter. As reported by Justice in Mexico, on November 20, 2013 U.S. authorities captured Serafín Zambada Ortíz, the son of ‘El Mayo.’ Zambada Ortíz (23), also known as ‘Sera,’ was captured at the border crossing in Nogales, Arizona, while trying to enter the United States from Mexico through the pedestrian lane, accompanied by his wife. Zambada Ortíz is the second son of Zambada to face criminal charges in the United States. Sera’s brother, Vicente ‘El Vicentillo’ Zambada Niebla, was extradited from Mexico and is awaiting trial in Chicago.

Late last year on December 30, 2013, José Rodrigo Aréchiga Gamboa, also known as ‘El Chino Ántrax,’ a high-ranking lieutenant in the Sinaloa Cartel was arrested in the Netherlands by Dutch police at the airport after his flight landed in Amsterdam. Aréchiga was indicted on December 20 by a Southern California federal grand jury for conspiracy to import and distribute drugs, and launder money. On January 3, the U.S. government unsealed the indictment and formally requested that the Dutch extradite Aréchiga to California to face the charges. Aréchiga is considered one of the top enforcers in the powerful Sinaloa Cartel and head of the cartel’s enforcement cell known as Los Ántrax that works specifically for ‘El Mayo’ to provide protection for him and his family, and that offers top hit men for cartel operations.

Last week, prior to the visit of U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Mexico for the North American Summit, SEMAR conducted several operations in the State of Sinaloa where they detained about ten members of the Sinaloa Cartel and seized drugs, weapons, and properties. Among those detained is a man known as “El 19,” alleged chief of security for ‘El Mayo.’ Sources suggest that the Navy was close to capturing ‘El Mayo’ and possibly even ‘El Chapo’ during these operations, but they nevertheless managed to escape.

The series of arrests and operations that impacted the Sinaloa Cartel and the closest circle to ‘El Mayo’ Zambada raised suspicions of a break-up within the organization, particularly between Guzmán and Zambada. Whether or not this was the case, and if the arrest of ‘El Chapo’ was in connection to that “alleged” break-up, it is still unclear what the future of the organization will be with the capture of ‘El Chapo’ and the strikes to ‘El Mayo,’ particularly when the organization managed to consolidate its power in Mexico above all other criminal organizations, most notably the Zetas organization, which received the most significant blows from the Mexican government over the past few years and whose leadership was presumably dismantled. Many believe that the Mexican and U.S. governments have long favored the Sinaloa Cartel over its more volatile counterparts for being a more business-oriented organization.

Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán was named by Forbes magazine as one of the richest and most powerful men in the world. After escaping from prison in 2001, Guzmán committed to gaining territory from other criminal organizations by forming alliances and succeeded in creating the most solid and powerful of Mexico’s criminal organizations with connections worldwide. ‘El Chapo’ was the most wanted criminal in the United States after the death of Osama Bin Laden.


“La Marina sitia Culiacán con un fuerte operativo terrestre y aéreo.” Vanguardia. February 17, 2014.

Gómora, Doris. “Marina mantiene operative de búsqueda en Culiacán.” El Universal. February 17, 2014.

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Associated Press. “US official: Sinaloa drug chief ‘Chapo’ Guzman arrested by US, Mexican authorities in Mexico.” The Washington Post. February 22, 2014.

Federal government to take control of municipalities in Michoacán as it announces pact to “institutionalize” self-defense groups

Dr. José Manuel Mireles (center) leads the Buenavista self-defense group. Photo: Reuters.

Dr. José Manuel Mireles (center) leads the Buenavista self-defense group. Photo: Reuters.

01/30/14 – (written by cmolzahn) Almost a year after they began to appear in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán to counter the influence of the Knights Templar (Caballeros Templarios) criminal organization, so-called “self-defense groups” (grupos de autodefensa) continued to spread in the troubled region in January, with the stated goal of fencing in the municipality of Apatzingán, considered to be the Templars’ center of control. The Templars emerged in 2010 from the splintering of the La Familia Michoacana criminal organization after its top leaders were taken out by the Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF). On January 15, the federal government announced an operation involving deployments of Federal Police and Army (Secretaría de Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) personnel to reestablish order in the state. Near the end of the month, the government said that it had reached a pact with the groups to absorb them into the state security apparatus, raising concerns from some security analysts.

Michoacán’s self-defense groups gave some ground to the Federal Police in the days following the most recent deployment of federal forces to the area. On January 4, self-defense groups entered Parácuaro, another municipality near Apatzingán, taking control of the municipal building and blockading the access points to the city. Roughly a week later, the Federal Police negotiated entry into Parácuaro with the self-defense groups and citizens alike. It was agreed that the groups would not be required to disarm, but would hide their weapons, allowing the Federal Police to be in charge of patrolling the streets. In some areas, such as the Cuatro Caminos intersection on the highway connecting Michoacán’s capital Morelia with Apazingán, the Federal Police operates in conjunction with the self-defense groups. There, police officers and members of self-defense groups operate four checkpoints with oversight from the Mexican Army. Monte Alejandro Rubido Garceia, executive secretary of the National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública), reported that the Federal Police had taken control of security duties in all 27 municipalities the federal operation had targeted in southern Michoacán, where the Tierra Caliente region lies. In addition, around 400 municipal police officers from the region were sent to the police training center in Tlaxcala to undergo vetting exams.


Regardless, the self-defense groups have not ceased their activities, and have vowed that they would not do so until the Templars’ leaders have been apprehended. On January 12, they took the town of Nueva Italia, which they consider to be the Templars’ second most significant position, behind Apatzingán. There were reports of gunfire, from which one member of the self-defense group was reportedly injured. Meanwhile, Apatzingán continues to feel the greatest effects of the conflict between the Templars and the self-defense groups, with several reports of armed men setting fire to vehicles, and a pharmacy near Apatzingán’s government offices was burned. On January 18, the same day that the groups ceded control of Parácuaro to the Federal Police, self-defense groups took control of the nearby town of La Huerta, located within the Apatzingán municipality. This was despite a statement made by Estanislao Beltrán, said to be the self-defense groups’ spokesman, that the groups would not continue their advancement into Apatzingán, but would maintain the positions they had taken to date.


While interactions between the self-defense groups and the Federal Police have been reported to be relatively conflict-free, there have been reports of violent confrontations between the groups and the Mexican Army. Proceso reported on January 14 that soldiers had confronted members of a self-defense group in Antúnez, in the Parácuaro municipality, with unofficial reports of between seven and 12 civilians killed. There were also conflicting messages from the self-defense groups just before and following the confrontation in Antúnez. An hour earlier, Dr. José Manuel Mireles, the most recognizable figure in the self-defense groups, issued a statement that they would agree to disband and return to their communities. However, in a video released just hours after the confrontation he insisted that they would not cease their activities until all seven leaders of the Knights Templar were captured. He also acknowledged that the video was edited to give the appearance that the self-defense groups would accommodate the government’s strategy. A statement from the self-defense commander known as “Cinco” was more inflammatory, saying that as a result there would be “declar[ed] a war against [Governor] Fausto Vallejo and [General Secretary of Government] Jesús Reyna,” accusing them of being “protectors of the Templars.”


The violence in Michoacán has brought about significant changes to the state government. While Governor Fausto Vallejo has remained despite numerous calls for him to step down, many of those responsible for public security in the state have been replaced. José Martín Godoy Castro is now Michoacán’s attorney general, while Carlos Hugo Castellano has been appointed public security secretary. Accompanying him will be Adolfo Eloy Peralto, who will assume the position of assistant public security secretary. Jesús Isaac Aceves was appointed to head up the state’s prison system. Each of the six regional attorneys general (subprocuradurías regionales) will also be replaced. Moreover, the federal government appointed a commissioner, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, to work alongside Vallejo’s security team in its efforts to restore peace to the state. Michoacán’s current Attorney General Marco Vinicio Aguilera will leave his position to serve on Castillo Cervantes’ team. Meanwhile, the current public security secretary, General Alberto Reyes Vaca, will return to his former duties for the Mexican Army. In a press conference, Commissioner Castillo emphasized that his duties will not trump those of Governor Vallejo, and that he will work alongside state and federal officials to address questions of economic and social development, infrastructure, agriculture, migration, and sustainable development.


The security situation in Michoacán has also had effects on neighboring states, particularly Jalisco. Jalisco state authorities have set up checkpoints along its border with Michoacán in an attempt to stem “spillover” effects from the conflict there. Moreover, the state’s educational institutions report “institutional pressure” from a presumed influx of young people fleeing the violence in Michoacán. The University of Guadalajara (Universidad de Guadalajara, UdeG) has seen a 30% increase in applications from Michoacán residents in recent years seeking to attend UdeG’s university and preparatory campuses in Ocotlán, La Barca, Atotonilco El Alto, and other locations relatively near the Michoacán border.


On January 27, Mexican Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong announced that the federal government and self-defense groups in Michoacán had agreed on a pact by which the groups would be absorbed into the state security apparatus, to form what are being termed “Rural Defense Corps” that will operate under the authority of the Mexican Army. The eight-point document specifies that the corps will be temporary, and requires the groups’ leaders to provide the government with a registry of all of their members, and also to register their weapons. The document was signed by Castillo Cervantes, Governor Vallejo, and group leaders Estanislao Beltrán, Hipólito Mora, Jesús Bucio, and Adalberto Rodríguez. Notably absent from the signing was Dr. José Manuel Mireles, leader of the Buenavista self-defense groups. While Osorio Chong touted the agreement as assurance that “all those who want to be part of federal or municipal forces do so within the framework of legality,” Hipólito Mora, who heads the Ruana self-defense groups, insisted that they would continue their advance on Apatingán. Meanwhile, the same day the pact was signed, self-defense groups occupied the government headquarters of the Peribán municipality. Two days earlier, they established a presence in four more communities in the Uruapán municipality, and took the government building of the San Juan Nuevo Parangaricutiro municipality.


Despite the federal government touting the pact as a significant step forward in resolving the security crisis in Michoacán, some security experts believe that legitimizing groups that have illegally armed themselves is fundamentally incompatible with a viable rule of law. Erubiel Tirado, a security expert at the Ibero-American University, characterized the move as legitimizing paramilitary groups. Moreover, he criticized the government’s failure to investigate whether, through their operations, the groups engaged in human rights abuses. “The origin of the autodefensas is illegal; there is a problem of legitimacy – it’s necessary that we investigate. Nobody has told us whether there are innocent victims on the part of the autodefensas,” he said. Tirado also criticized the appointment of Castillo Cervantes, saying that the naming of a security commissioner “does not have legal grounding, does not have any constitutional foundation.” Nevertheless, Castillo announced on January 29 that the process of regulating the self-defense groups in Michoacán had begun, with recruiting, distributing uniforms, and collecting records for members of the new Rural Defense Corps.




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 January 14, 2014.

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January 18, 2014.

“Autodefensas se incorporarán a Cuerpos de Defensa Rurales.” El Informador. January 28, 2014.

Vivas, María Luisa. “Advierten que Peña legitimó un modelo paramilitar al firmar acuerdo con autodefensas.” Proceso. January 29, 2014.

“Comienza proceso de regularización de autodefensas en oeste de México.” EFE. January 29, 2014.

The Peña Nieto administration: a year in review

01/02/14 – (by cmolzahn) During his campaign and the initial stages of his presidency, President Enrique Peña Nieto promised Mexicans a change in the government’s organized crime strategy, pledging a more creative, less improvisational approach to the ongoing security crisis in certain areas of the country. Nevertheless, his administration has reacted to the worsening public security situation particularly in the Pacific states of Michoacán and Guerrero with a 50% increase in soldiers deployed to carry out public security forces, with several municipalities currently under the control of the Mexican armed forces. According to a report in La Jornada, the 50% increase in soldiers deployed along with a 20% increase in Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) agents involved in public security operations have not translated to a significant decrease in organized crime activity.

President Enrique Peña Nieto (right) takes office in December 2012 from former President Felipe Calderón (left). Photo: Wikimedia Commons

President Enrique Peña Nieto (right) takes office in December 2012 from former President Felipe Calderón (left). Photo: Wikimedia Commons

While official data points to a decrease in homicides in 2013 as compared with the previous year, rates of extortions and kidnappings are up in 2013 as compared with 2012. Between December 2012 and October 2013 there were 7,300 complaints of extortion, 606 more than during the same period a year prior. Moreover, Mexico’s National Public Security System (Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública, SNSP) reported that during the first eleven months of 2013 there were 1,583 kidnappings reported to state attorney general’s offices, up from 1,196 during the same period in 2012, representing a 32% increase. The states with the highest incidence of kidnapping in 2013 have been Guerrero, Michoacán, Tamaulipas, Morelos, the State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex), Veracruz and Tabasco. Of these, Guerrero reported the greatest increase in kidnappings, surging from 69 reported cases in 2012 to 228 during 2013.

In November 2012, Peña Nieto presented his organized crime strategy, which was to involve dividing the country into five regions and the creation of specialized police units to address security issues particular to individual regions, but this proposal has yet to materialize. He also proposed the creation of a National Gendarmerie (Gendarmería Nacional), a police force of 40,000 soldiers from the Army (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) and Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) but with a civilian command, dedicated exclusively to combating crime in the municipalities, which have proven most susceptible to corruption by organized crime groups. The intention was for the Gendarmerie to eventually replace the Mexican armed forces in the public security role they have acquired during the past two presidential administrations. In his first meeting with the National Security Council (Consejo Nacional de Seguridad), however, Peña Nieto announced that the corporation would be launched with 10,000 agents. In June, the initial police body was further scaled back to 5,000, none of which will be soldiers, likely because of resistance from the Mexican armed forces to relinquish highly trained soldiers. Recruits must pass a rigorous series of physical, psychological and confidence exams, which, while universally accepted as a positive, makes finding qualified individuals outside of the armed forces particularly challenging. Moreover, it was revealed that despite initial proposals, the Gendarmerie would be made an additional division of the Federal Police, as opposed to an autonomous agency. The initial contingent of the Gendarmerie is scheduled to be fully operational in July 2014, though Public Security Secretary (Comisionado Nacional de Seguridad) Manuel Mondragón y Kalb announced in December that agents are already operating in tourist areas of Acapulco, the city of Puebla, and Monterrey, as well as several municipalities in the State of Mexico and the Federal District (Distrito Federal, DF).

Eduardo Guerrero, director of public policy consulting group Lantia Consultores, said that the National Gendarmerie was launched without a clear idea of what they would accomplish, a fact he considers unfortunate given the need for a stronger state presence in the rural municipalities. Guerrero believes that in order to be effective, the force must be oriented toward preventing crime, for which the proposed number of agents will be insufficient. Moreover, the federal budget allocated just $4.5 billion pesos ($344 million USD) for the Gendarmerie for 2014, less than 10% of that allocated to the Mexican Army, and roughly 18% of the Navy’s share.

Guerrero’s lack of confidence in the government’s methodology is shared by many Mexicans. According to polling firm Consulta Mitofsky, Peña Nieto had the lowest approval rating entering office (54%) since Ernesto Zedillo in 1994 (42%). His approval rating has since fallen to 49.7%, also the lowest after a year of presidency since Zedillo (43.3%). This low perception of both the security situation in Mexico and of the government’s willingness or ability to confront it has resulted in an unprecedented wave of vigilante groups, particularly in the Pacific states of Guerrero and Michoacán. As a result, 47 of Michoacán’s 113 municipalities have felt the presence of such groups, with their presence continuing to spread, despite the state and federal governments’ continued insistence that they would not. Eduardo Guerrero said that a force like the Gendarmerie adequately staffed and funded and properly implemented will be required to gain the public trust and counter the presence of such groups, and estimates that it will take between eight and 12 months to create the ties with communities necessary to evaluate and respond to their specific security challenges.

Despite these setbacks, the Peña Nieto administration can claim some success during its first full calendar year. Through November, the official number of intentional homicides during Peña Nieto’s tenure was 18,454, down from 21,728 cases from December 2011 through November 2012, a 15% decline. It must be noted, though, that homicides were already in decline during the final months of the Calderón administration; between October 2012 and October 2013 there was a decline of just 3.2%, while the decline in the monthly average of homicides during the last four months of 2012 (which includes one month of Peña Nieto’s administration) and all of 2013 was less than 1%. It is also important to point out that 2012’s numbers were revised upward in May of 2013, as will likely be the case for 2013’s data. Moreover, this spring the Mexican government made the decision to stop differentiating organized crime-related homicides, making it difficult to accurately gauge success in that arena. In the fight against organized crime, several high-profile arrests have been made under Peña Nieto’s watch, including Javier Torres Félix and Manuel Aguirre Galindo of the Arellano Félix cartel; and Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, leader of the Zetas criminal organization. Also arrested during Peña Nieto’s first year were Mario Armando Ramírez Treviño, leader of the Gulf Cartel; and Marcelino Ticante Castro, considered one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s highest-ranking members. Nevertheless, overall organized crime-related arrests are down nearly 33% from 2012.

According to a document the Attorney Genera’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) submitted to the Associated Press, recent anti-cartel efforts have dealt the biggest blow to the Zetas criminal organization. It also details 12 separate drug trafficking organizations operating in Mexico, including several little-known groups, such as the Cartel del Poniente, and the La Corona and Los Rojos criminal organizations. The AP requested the document detailing cartel leaders sought after, captured or killed during the Peña Nieto administration. After losing an appeal before the Federal Institute for Access to Information and Protection of Data (Instituto Federal de Acceso a la Información y Protección de Datos, IFAI), the Mexican government turned the document over, though omitted the names of the 53 capos from the list of 122 still being sought after. Of the 69 cartel leaders captured, Los Zetas were by far the hardest hit, suffering 23 arrested and four killed. This focus on the Zetas was consistent with former President Calderón’s priorities, and comes as no shock to security experts. “It doesn’t surprise me, since the final two years of the Calderón government, the Mexican government focused on combating Los Zetas, which are the most violent against the population in general,” said Jorge Chabat, security and organized crime expert at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, CIDE). The second most-impacted group was the Cártel del Poniente, which operates primarily in the northern states of Coahuila and Durango. 17 of its members were detained. The Sinaloa Cartel led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán followed with seven arrests and two killed.

Security analysts Rodrigo Salazar of the Latin American Social Sciences Faculty (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, Flasco) and César Velázquez of the Iberian-American University (Universidad Iberoamericana) agree that despite his campaign promises, there has been no significant change in public security strategy between the administrations of former President Calderón and Peña Nieto, both of which center around the use of the military to respond to organized crime activity. Both analysts commented that the most notable change has been a shift in discourse, with the Peña Nieto administration addressing organized crime violence much less in the media than that of Calderón who, according to Salazar, had a communications strategy “centered in the war [against drug trafficking],” which he characterizes as “one of Calderón’s most dramatic errors.”



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“Con Peña Nieto aumentó en 50% el número de soldados que realizan tareas contra el narco: investigación.” Sinembargo. December 1, 2013.

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Vigilante groups continue expansion in western state of Michoacán


The Mexican government has sent in 1,000 more soldiers to Michoacán. Photo: Juan José Estrada, Cuartoscuro.

11/30/13 – Self-defense groups in November continued their expansion in the troubled Tierra Caliente region of Michoacán, where the federal government has sent thousands of soldiers and agents of the Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) in an attempt to restore order to the area. The situation has sparked fierce debate in the nation’s capital regarding how to best address the challenge, while underscoring the extent to which criminal organizations have expanded their own presence in the state. According to the newspaper Proceso, self-defense groups have appeared in at least 13 Mexican states, most notably in Guerrero and Michoacán, though they have also been detected in Chiapas, Chihuahua, the State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex), Jalisco, Morelos, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Tlaxcala, and Veracruz. What most of the groups have in common is that they are found in relatively poor, rural areas where state and federal authorities have little or no presence, and municipal police forces are weak and/or susceptible to influence from organized crime.

Despite the state and federal governments’ insistence that the groups would not spread any further, self-defense groups have expanded their presence to seven municipalities in the mountainous Tierra Caliente region in response to increased activity from organized crime groups in the area, principally the Knights Templar (Caballeros Templarios). In mid-November, Mexico Attorney General José Murillo and Michoacán Governor Fausto Vallejo said they would not allow further expansion of the groups, but a week later there were reports of blockades around four communities where there was previously no presence of self-defense forces. Armed confrontations have broken out in recent weeks between groups claiming to be self-defense forces and presumed organized crime members. During the last week of November, three Federal Police officers were killed in two separate incidents. Two were killed and 13 others wounded when a PF convoy was ambushed on November 26 in the Parácuaro municipality. Three days later, immediately after self-defense groups had announced their expansion to four new communities, the body of a third PF officer was found in a parking lot in the center of Apatzingán, the municipality that has drawn the most attention of community police groups and authorities alike.

In response to the deteriorating security situation in western Michoacán, the Mexican government sent an additional 1,000 soldiers to the area to reinforce the already sizeable military presence around Apatzingán. The Mexican Army (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) has taken over operations of the Vista Hermosa, Lázaro Cárdenas, and Apatzingán municipalities in the Tierra Caliente region, while Governor Vallejo has taken a strong stance against the community police groups. Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong has said that the federal forces will remain in the state until rule of law in the state has been restored.


Luisa Maria Calderón.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Some groups, like those in Guerrero connected to the Regional Coordinator of Community Authorities (Coordinadora Regional de Autoridades Comunitarias, CRAC), are well established, dating back as far as the mid-1990s when that group formed; while others were created much more recently, and more ad-hoc than those comprising CRAC. Still others—particularly in Michoacán—are feared to have ties to organized crime groups. Regardless of their origins and intentions, the persistence and expansion of these groups are either a symptom of, or reaction to, the federal, state, and local governments’ inability to adequately respond to a worsening public security crisis in the affected areas. Making matters worse, El Universal reported that two federal senators revealed to the newspaper that representatives of the Knights Templar were admitted to the Mexican Senate to discuss the public security situation in Michoacán. One of those present, Luisa María Calderón of the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) and sister of former President Felipe Calderón, said she did not know who had admitted the individuals in question. Nevertheless, on October 17, a group of ten people, which included community and business leaders from Apatzingán representing a group calling itself the Michoacan Peace and Dignity Association (Asociación Michoacanos, Paz y Dignidad), met with members of the Senate. This group is headed by Tito Emigdio Fernández Torres, who military authorities as well as the Federal Police have reportedly identified as forming part of the Knights Templar’s political and business wing. According to a military report, Fernández had ties to former La Familia Michoacana leader Nazario Moreno, and has led a media campaign in the area to discredit the Federal Police and Mexican Army, accusing them of systematic human rights violations. Calderón said that when the senators realized who the individuals were, many left the meeting, and expressed concern that they must have connections within the Senate that allowed them free access. For his part, Fernández and the group he leads have denied any criminal associations, and said they would seek the removal of Luisa María Calderón from office, who he said has her own ties to Michoacán’s community police groups.

Regardless of the veracity of the allegations against Fernández, the worsening security situation in Michoacán has rekindled the debate over whether the Mexican’ government’s inability, or unwillingness, to control criminal activity in certain parts of the national territory constitutes a “failed state.” It is a term that was often circulated in the media during the initial surge in cartel-related violence during the Calderón administration (2006-2012). Since then, however, criminal groups have diversified their activities to include extortion, oil theft, and kidnapping. Now, according to the Associated Press, drug trafficking organizations have now made inroads into Mexico’s iron ore mining industry, integrating themselves even deeper into the national economy. On November 4, the Mexican military occupied Lázaro Cárdenas in Michoacán, the country’s second-largest port, in order to cut off export of illegally obtained iron ore to China, principally by the Knights Templar. Federal officials have reportedly been aware of the problem since 2010, when that group’s predecessor, La Familia Michoacana, carried out the same practice. Last month, individuals believed to belong to the Knights Templar attacked power stations in the same region of western Michoacán, leaving 11 towns without power in an unprecedented attack on national infrastructure. Meanwhile, PAN leaders in the Mexican Senate are pushing for a constitutional reform that would allow for the forced removal of state officials, particularly Governor Vallejo, who belongs to President Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI). Perhaps most troubling, though, is the loss of faith in authorities to offer protection to a beleaguered citizenry that has opened space for the emergence of the self-defense groups, which voices ranging from the Mexican government to the National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) have acknowledged as incompatible with the rule of law. For these reasons, the current situation in Michoacán perhaps presents the greatest challenge yet for the federal government in the ongoing struggle with criminal organizations.

In related news, human rights groups are working with the family of a woman from Seattle, Washington who was arrested in August in the state of Guerrero. She was the leader of a self-defense group claiming to be protecting the Olinala indigenous community in Guerrero against drug trafficking organizations and police corruption. The state of Guerrero has legal provisions allowing these groups to operate, but state authorities arrested the woman, Nestora Salgado (41), on kidnapping charges. Salgado’s family has turned to the International Human Rights Clinic at the Seattle University School of Law for help in the case. The group filed a petition with the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention based in Geneva. Along with Salgado’s family, the Human Rights Clinic has argued that Salgado’s detention was politically motivated. Salgado was accused of kidnapping in connection with the arrest of a group of teen girls her organization believed to be involved in drug deals; and of a local official for the alleged attempted theft of a cow at the scene of a double killing. Salgado is a U.S. citizen who moved to the United States when she was around 20 years old. Beginning around 2000, she reportedly began returning to Olinala periodically with donations, becoming increasingly involved in the community’s security situation and eventually heading up the community defense group.



Martínez, Dalia and Ricardo Gómez. “Vive Senado enredo por ‘Templarios.’” El Universal. November 20, 2013.


Mercado, Angélica and Omar Brito. “Intenta PAN reforma para desaparecer poderes en Michoacán.” Milenio. November 21, 2013.


Redacción. “Asociación Michoacanos, Paz y Dignidad niega vínculos con Los Templarios y pide desafuero de ‘Cocoa’ Calderón.” Sin Embargo. November 25, 2013.

Cantú, Jesús. “Autodefensas: colapso del Estado.” Proceso. November 26, 2013.


“Family seeks release of Renton woman detained in Mexico.” Associated Press. November 26, 2013.


“Grupos de autodefensa amplían radio de acción en estado mexicano.” Prensa Latina. November 28, 2013.


Martínez, Dalia and Marcos Muedano. “Suman tres los federales caídos en Michoacán.” El Universal. November 29, 2013.


Stevenson, Mark. “Mexican drug cartels now make money exporting ore.” Associated Press. November 29, 2013.

García Davish, Francisco. “Mil militares más ‘blindan’ Apatzingán.” Milenio. November 30, 2013. 

Violence surges in Michoacán

Ambush in Michoacán. Photo: Azteca Noticias.

Ambush in Michoacán. Photo: Azteca Noticias.

08/02/13 – July saw a surge in violence in the state of Michoacán in the Pacific Coast of Mexico, a month in which a self-defense group (grupo de autodefensa) was shot at during a protest, and officers from the Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF) and the Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) were ambushed by armed groups, which led to several casualties including that of a high-ranking Navy officer.

On Monday, July 22, a group of gunmen opened fire during a protest by members of a self-defense vigilante group against the criminal organization known as the Knights Templar. Approximately 300 masked vigilantes were at the gates of the city hall in the town of Los Reyes threatening to take over police functions because of the insecurity caused by uncontrolled criminal groups in the area when three gunmen allegedly opened fire towards the crowd killing five people, including one police officer and one civilian who was not involved with the protest.

The following day on Tuesday, July 23, several Federal Police convoys were ambushed in at least six attacks throughout the region known as the Hot Land (Tierra Caliente) where alleged members of the Knights Templar blocked roads and attacked patrols as they passed through. According to official reports, the police officers were able to repel the attacks, killing at least 20 gunmen and wounding 15 others. Federal Police reported two PF casualties.

A seventh ambushed against the Federal Police occurred on Wednesday, July 24, where a group of assailants attacked a convoy of patrols close to the town of Pichilinguillo in Tierra Caliente close to the port of Lázaro Cárdenas, where at least four PF agents died. For its part, the National Comission of Security (Comisión Nacional de Seguridad, CNS) reported that the clash occurred around midnight on July 23, and that only two officers were killed.

Only three days later, two members of the Mexican Navy, including a Vice Admiral, were killed while they were driving along the northwestern region of the state. According to official information, Vice Admiral Carlos Miguel Salazar Ramonet, commander of the Eighth Naval Zone based in Puerto Vallarta in the neighboring state of Jalisco, and other members of the Navy, including Second Master Francisco Ricardo Hernández Mercado, were traveling in the region on Sunday, July 27, when an armed group opened fire on their vehicle. Both Salazar and Hernández died.

This series of attacks came after an increasing wave of violence and insecurity in Michoacán that led the Peña Nieto administration to launch a new operation in mid-May to combat organized crime. As reported by the Justice in Mexico Project, the operation was the first of its kind since Peña Nieto assumed presidency in December 2012, and included the deployment of the Army (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) and the Navy, and the appointment of an Army General as the new public security chief. As a result of the most recent attacks, President Peña Nieto ordered the military forces, the Federal Police, and the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) to support law enforcement in the regions of Michoacán where criminal groups have increased their control and presence.


Associated Press. “Mexico violence leaves 22 dead in Michoacán.” The Guardian. July 24, 2013.

“Nuevo ataque a policías federales en Michoacán.” BBC Mundo. July 24, 2013.

Redacción. “La violencia deja Michoacán; Nuevo ataque a federales.” Fronteranet. July 25, 2013.

Reséndiz, Francisco. “Meta, devolver paz a Michoacán: Peña Nieto.” El Universal. July 26, 2013.

Fausset, Richard. “2 salin in Michoacan, including Mexican navy vice admiral.” Los Angeles Times. July 28, 2013.