05/23/13 – After an increasing wave of violence and insecurity, the administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto announced the launching of a new operation to combat organized crime in the state of Michoacán. This major operation, the first of its kind since Peña Nieto assumed presidency in December 2012, started with the deployment of the Army and the Navy to the state in mid-May and with the appointment of a new public security chief, Army General Alberto Reyes Vaca. Although the number of troops deployed will not be disclosed, the federal government assured that the troops would not be withdrawn until the security situation in Michoacán improves.
Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, head of the Ministry of the Interior (Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB), indicated that this operation will deploy troops from the Ministry of Defense (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA) and the Ministry of Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR), who will be supported by state and municipal governments. Michoacán’s interim governor, Jesús Reyna García,—who replaced Fausto Vallejo Figueroa for health reasons—argued that the operation will start in the municipalities of Apatzingán, Aquila, Buenavista, Chinicuila, Coahuayana, Los Reyes, and Tancítaro, most of which are in a region known as Tierra Caliente, or “Hot Land,” and will gradually progress to others.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “Michoacán was probably chosen because it was fast spiraling into chaos.” The state has experienced a surge of violence and insecurity caused primarily by the criminal organization known as the Knights Templar, which is involved not only in drug trafficking, but also in extortion, and the targeting of businesses through arson and the killing of business owners if they refuse to pay for protection. According to inhabitants, this group has cut off the supply of fuel and food in some towns, and has forbid its residents from accessing it elsewhere. As a result, several “self-defense” groups (grupos de autodefensa), which are often referred to as community police forces, composed of unmasked town settlers have “increasingly banded together […] chasing off corrupt cops and setting up checkpoints along the highways to sniff out traffickers,” describes the Washington Post. Although the number of community forces appearing throughout Michoacán has increased, as seen in the municipality of Aria de Rosales in mid-May, some of the groups have begun to cede control over the municipalities to the federal troops, like in Buenavista, Coalcoman, and Tepalcatepec.
Coincidentally, former President Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) started his presidency with the launch of a major security operation on December 18, 2006, only days after taking office, to restore order and fight police corruption in Michoacán, his native state. Joint Operation Michoacán (Operación Conjunta Michoacán) included troops and agents from the Army, the now-extinct Federal Investigative Agency (Agencia Federal de Investigaciones, AFI), and the Federal Preventive Police (Policia Federal Preventiva, PFP)—now known as the Federal Police (Policía Federal, PF). The operation followed requests for federal crime-fighting assistance from Michoacán Govenor Lázaro Cárdenas after high-profile drug violence threatened the rule of law in parts of the state. At the time, the state struggled with controlling internal conflicts between drug-trade organizations such as the Gulf Cartel, the Valencia Cartel, and the recently emerged organization, La Familia Michoacana (LFM). Calderón’s operation was the first movement towards a large-scale strategy to fight organized crime head on, and the first signal sent by the Calderón administration to criminal organizations. The strategy eventually led to the dismantling of the LFM, but also to the creation of the equally powerful Knights Templar from its splintered factions.